Marijuana smokers with small amounts of the drug or people driving while their licenses are suspended could soon be spared a trip to jail in Austin, reports the Austin American-Statesman. By year’s end, Police Chief Art Acevedo hopes to allow officers to ticket some offenders instead of taking them to jail. The move comes more than a year after state legislators passed a “cite and release” law. Other Texas cities, including Dallas, have altered policies to give officers more flexibility in deciding which suspects get tickets and which go to jail.
The penalties would not change. People who received citations would be given a court date, and there would be no change in how their cases would move through the court system. In addition to the marijuana and driver’s license charges, offenses that would fall under the law are criminal mischief, graffiti and theft when the damage is less than $500. Proponents say a cite and release policy eases the strain on jails, saves minor offenders from spending hours behind bars and frees officers to stay on the street and pursue more serious criminals. A recent study estimated that if the policy had been in place last year, about 15,000 Austin suspects could have been cited instead of jailed, a process that can take officers as many as three hours.