SAN ANTONIO – Under a policy instituted earlier this year, the Bexar County District Attorney's Office is now rejecting felony drug possession cases in which the drugs found weigh less than .25 grams.
District Attorney Joe Gonzales confirmed the policy this month, after sources provided the KSAT 12 Defenders records citing the new policy as the reason cocaine and methamphetamine cases were being dismissed.
"I've got to make the decision as the top law enforcement officer in this county to make the best uses of the manpower that I have and the limited resources that I have," said Gonzales.
He said he would rather use his office's resources to prosecute violent criminals and drug dealers, as opposed to defendants caught simply possessing small amounts of drugs.
"If this is a career criminal, if this is someone that is engaged in selling drugs, we will catch them and we will prosecute them for a lot more than trace evidence of drugs," said Gonzales.
Last month, KTBC TV in Austin reported that the Travis County district attorney will no longer prosecute cases in which trace amounts of drugs are found.
Travis County DA Margaret Moore considers a trace amount of drugs to be .01 grams, according to the report.
Pressed on whether .25 grams, a much larger weight, also constitutes a trace amount, Gonzales said, "I had to come up with a measure, and we looked at it and found that there was a significant difference in the cases that were successfully prosecuted over a quarter of a gram versus those under a quarter of a gram."
Under the Texas Penal Code, possession of a controlled substance listed in Penalty Group 1 that weighs 1 gram or fewer is a state jail felony.
PG 1 includes but is not limited to cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and morphine.
"I can understand why they may be."
Area law enforcement officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity for this story said they hate the new policy.
Among the claims from law enforcement:
The new policy was not communicated to them after being instituted;
it invalidates their police work;
and it prevents them from getting suspects to supply information in other cases
San Antonio Police Department Chief William McManus declined a request to be interviewed for this story.
McManus released the following statement:
This changes nothing for our Officers. SAPD Officers will continue to use discretion and make arrests based on probable cause. After an arrest is made, the DA's office has the authority to determine how to proceed with the charges.
Gonzales said if officers are unhappy with the policy, they have not expressed their concerns directly to him.
"No officer has come to me and let me know that they're unhappy or dissatisfied with my policy. I can understand why they may be," said Gonzales.
Gonzales said not all possession cases under .25 grams are eligible for rejection.
Offenses committed in drug-free zones, for example, are not included in the new policy.
Three previous drug convictions
One of the felony cases rejected under the new policy was a February charge against Eric Ross.
Internal records show the assistant district attorney assigned to the case rejected it after lab results showed Ross was in possession of .17 grams of meth at the time of his arrest.
Bexar County court records show Ross has a criminal history that includes three previous drug convictions, two of them felonies.
Ross' criminal history in Bexar County also includes an evading arrest conviction, two DWI convictions and convictions for theft and unlawful carry of a weapon.
Ross also has multiple arrests for family violence as well as arrests for theft of a firearm and possession of a prohibited knife.
Javier Serna, who was arrested in January while in possession of a substance later determined to be cocaine, also saw the case rejected after the weight was found to be less than .25 grams.
It was Serna's third felony drug charge in less than four years, court records show.
When asked if Gonzales was giving defendants like Ross and Serna a free pass to reoffend, he said, "Well, the reality is in any case when someone is charged with a crime, you have to take each case on an individual basis."