DA expands drug reforms to include rejection of certain marijuana possession cases

Bexar County DA Joe Gonzales wants bigger focus on violent offenses

By Dillon Collier - Investigative Reporter, Josh Saunders - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales on Thursday formally announced a wide range of reforms to how his office is handling drug cases and bond reviews.

The press conference came a day after a KSAT 12 Defenders investigation revealed that felony drug possession cases for substances like cocaine and methamphetamine are being rejected by prosecutors if the amount of the drug involved is less than .25 grams.

Standing on the steps of the Bexar County Courthouse and backed by a large number of county officials and members of his office, Gonzales said that policy, and others, are part of an effort to refocus his agency's resources.

"Prosecuting the most serious crimes while trying to keep our jail free of people that ought not to be there," said Gonzales, who added that jail is for people the community is afraid of.

Gonzales said prosecutors have also been instructed to reject marijuana possession cases when the amount is less than one ounce.

He also rolled out his agency's new bail policy, which calls on prosecutors to recommend a personal recognizance, or PR, bond to defendants charged with misdemeanors or state jail felonies.

Gonzales said defendants considered to be a flight risk, or a danger to the community or the victim, will not be eligible for a PR bond, which allows a person to be released from jail without paying a bond as long as he or she shows up for all of his or her court appearances.

"Someone should not languish in jail simply because they cannot afford a bond," said Gonzales.

The DA said his office has put in place a new gang initiative that allows area law enforcement agencies to more easily share information about gang-related violence.

The first-year DA also touted his office's work so far in revamping its Family Violence Unit and expanding the county's pretrial diversion program.

Gonzales' cite and release program, which allows officers to issue tickets instead of making arrests for some misdemeanor offenses, is now scheduled to be launched by midsummer.

.25 grams

Gonzales held up a clear baggie with a small amount of powder inside to demonstrate the type of drug possession cases his office is now rejecting.

Law enforcement officers who have spoken with the Defenders in recent weeks said the policy invalidates their police work, was not communicated to them properly and prevents them from getting information from suspects that can then be used in other criminal cases.

Other county officials have defended the policies.

Judicial Services Director Mike Lozito said after the press conference that a person under arrest can still seek help, even if his or her charge is later rejected.

"I have mental health clinicians there 24/7. If they want help, they can actually go across the street to Restoration Center, to the detox center to get help, so the resources have been made available," said Lozito.

Gonzales said the policies will be revisited at the end of the year.

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