Criminal Justice SystemDrug Crimes
Harris County's New Marijuana Policies-What You Need to Know
As the battle for common-sense marijuana policy in Texas rages on, a major victory has been won right here in Harris County. As of January 1, 2016, Harris County police officers have been ordered to offer first-time offenders in possession of two ounces or less of marijuana the option of enrolling in the First Chance Intervention Program. However, this new mandate comes with some important details. Regardless of whether or not you anticipate being caught in possession of marijuana, take time to arm yourself with the facts and learn how this new policy may or may not apply to you.
What is the First Chance Intervention Program?
In October 2014, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson introduced the First Chance Intervention Program. Under this new initiative, first-time offenders caught with less than two ounces of marijuana are given the option of community service in lieu of any criminal charges. As long as the offender has no outstanding warrants or prior criminal convictions, possession of two ounces or less of marijuana can be answered for with eight hours of community service and/or drug education classes. The program has already been a huge success, with recidivism rates dropping by more than 90%.
Disqualification from the First Chance Intervention Program
Now that the First Chance Intervention Program has expanded to all of Harris County, it’s important to understand why a first-time offender might be exempt from being offered the program. Any of the following factors can disqualify you from participating in the program:
- Receiving any charges higher than a Class C citation during your police encounter. If you are caught driving under the influence or in possession of other controlled substances, you can still be arrested and charged with possession of two ounces or less of marijuana during the same stop.
- Previous conviction of anything above a Class C misdemeanor.
- Lacking proper identification. If your driver’s license is suspended or out-of-date at the time of the stop, you will not qualify for the First Chance Intervention Program.
- Having taken part in another pretrial intervention program. Whether it was probation or deferred adjudication, participating in a past diversion program disqualifies you from the First Chance Intervention Program.
- Currently being on bond or probation. Even if the case is unrelated and charges are still pending, being out on bond disqualifies you from participating in the First Chance Intervention Program.
Participation in the First Chance Intervention Program
If you qualify for the program, within three days of your stop, you must schedule an evaluation appointment with Harris County Pretrial Services, or else you will be unable to participate. Following the evaluation, you will have to fulfill eight hours of either community service or drug education programs for a 60 or 90-day period. As long as you follow these steps and stay out of trouble, you can go on your way with a clean record and no further fees.
Even with this new mandate in place, an encounter with the police may not always end fairly. Whether it’s by improperly weighing your marijuana or by tacking on a nonsense charge, cops can still find ways to invalidate your eligibility for the program. If you find yourself in a bad situation, don’t just wait it out or try to handle it yourself. Contact the team at Thiessen Law Firm for a free consultation. From drug crimes to DWI defense, we fight tirelessly for our clients.