SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County will push the state legislature to allow a broader range of offenses to be eligible for cite-and-release programs, including prostitution, possession of a wider array of drugs, and higher-level criminal mischief charges.
Working with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, both San Antonio police officers and Bexar County Sheriff’s deputies can issue citations for certain misdemeanors, like marijuana possession, rather than arresting the person on-site. State law restricts what offenses are eligible for cite-and-release, though, and Bexar County commissioners agreed on a legislative agenda Tuesday that includes an effort to expand the list of possible offenses.
Bexar County Governmental Affairs Director Melissa Shannon told KSAT the proposed list had been developed with the help of Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales and Bexar County Chief Public Defender Michael Young. Shannon said she had sent a draft version of a bill to other large Texas counties, hoping that they would agree to back the effort.
The county will still need to find state legislators to sponsor the bill in the upcoming session, which begins Jan. 12.
Though she did not share the draft language for a bill, Shannon provided the list of offenses the county wants legislators to add:
- Adding State Jail Felony marijuana possession (Currently only Class A and B)
- Adding State Jail Felony synthetic marijuana possession (Currently only Class A and B)
- Adding State Jail Felony possession of a controlled substance (Currently Not Available)
- Adding State Jail Felony possession of PG 1-A (LSD) (Currently Not Available)
- Adding State Jail Felony possession of PG 2 (Ecstasy, etc.) (Currently Not Available)
- Adding State Jail Felony possession of PG 3 (Codeine, etc.) (Currently Not Available)
- Adding State Jail Felony possession of PG 4 (Xanax, etc.) (Currently Not Available)
- Adding Class A and State Jail Felony possession of unlisted substances (Currently Not Available)
- Adding Class A State Jail Felony Criminal Mischief (Currently only Class B)
- Adding State Jail Felony Graffiti (Currently only Class A and B)
- Adding Criminal Trespass Class A, B and C (Currently not available)
- Adding Class A and State Jail Felony Theft of Service (Currently only Class B)
- Adding Prostitution Class A, B and State Jail Felony (Currently not available)
"It’s nonviolent — I want to make sure that that’s stressed — low-level, nonviolent offenses,” Shannon told KSAT.
For Shannon, cite-and-release is a money-saver, and more eligible offenses mean more money saved.
“So, the more people we put in jail, the more money we’ve got to spend to house those,” Shannon said. “It’s much easier to let someone out pretrial at the point of offense when the officer has them on the street, or wherever, and cite them and then have them come in for court at a later date, versus bringing them in -- takes the officer off the street. They’ve got to process them at the detention center. Then, we’ve got to house them. What if they can’t bail out?”
In the year between Jul. 1, 2019, and Jun. 30, 2020, the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office received 2,481 citations, which it calculates avoided nearly $1.9 million in booking costs.
The vast majority of the cases came from the San Antonio Police Department, which reported a 36% release rate for eligible offenses, most of which were possession cases involving less than two ounces of marijuana.
According to the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, the following offenses are included in the current cite-and-release program:
State law also allows for the use of cite-and-release in graffiti cases between $100 and $750 and possession of contraband in a correctional facility. Though the latter was not included in the list provided by the DA’s office, it is in SAPD’s reports.
District Attorney Joe Gonzales said law enforcement has “by and large” decided not to include graffiti, though.
With all of the offenses, it’s up to the officer whether to issue a citation or arrest someone -- something Gonzales said would not change under Bexar County’s proposal.
“Well, the state jail felony amounts of marijuana is between four ounces to five pounds," Gonzales said. So certainly when you get closer to the five pounds, it may not seem as attractive for law enforcement. But, again, that’s the discretion side. They make that call.”
The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office also reviews the citations to decide whether to allow the cited person to pursue a “diversion track” that would keep the offense off their record. If not, the DA’s Office can still file charges in court.