Dallas, TX – The Dallas County district attorney has announced his office will no longer prosecute a slew of misdemeanor offenses in an effort to end alleged “mass incarceration” practices within the county.
“When I ran to become your District Attorney, I promised you that I would bring changes to our criminal justice system,” Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said in the Thursday announcement.
“The changes that I promised will…make our community safer by ensuring that our limited resources are spent where they can do the most good,” he added.
Creuzot said that his office will no longer prosecute first-time marijuana and THC possession offenses, unless they occur inside a drug-free zone, involve a deadly weapon, or “involve evidence of delivery.”
He noted that African Americans were being charged with marijuana possession three times as often as other races, and that his office had to “take action to end that disparity.”
“I am also in the process of dismissing all pending misdemeanor marijuana cases filed before I took office,” Creuzot boasted. “To date, I have dismissed over a thousand misdemeanor marijuana cases.”
The office will refuse to file charges in all cases involving “trace” amounts of drug possession, regardless of the type of drug.
Trace drugs often come from paraphernalia, such as pipes, that have used drug residue on them.
Creuzot said his office will also not accept drug possession cases without laboratory reports confirming that the seized substance was actually illegal, so that alleged offenders won’t be forced to sit in jail until testing results are completed.
“If, in fact, the substance is a controlled substance, we will be requesting that the District Clerk issue a summons instead of a warrant,” he added.
Suspects also don’t have to worry about being charged for trespassing in most cases.
“I have instructed my intake prosecutors to dismiss all misdemeanor criminal trespass cases that do not involve a residence or physical intrusion into property, including all pending cases,” Creuzot wrote.
He suggested that the county find a way to “provide affordable housing and mental health services” to people instead, and claimed that prosecution of most trespassing offenses is “inhumane.”
Creuzot’s office also won’t prosecute cases of theft under $750, as long as the offense wasn’t committed “for economic gain.”
That means that shoplifters who take off with “necessary items,” such as food, won’t be held accountable.
“That shop owner is gonna have to take matters in his own hands, or he’s gonna have to let $600 worth of merchandise walk out of the store,” Dallas Police Association spokesperson Mike Mata told KXAS. “I don’t think he’s going to stay in business very long.”
Instead of pursuing charges against offenders who insist on driving with suspended licenses, Creuzot said he has developed a “diversion program” that will result in a dismissal of charges for defendants “who clear their drivers’ licenses.”
He’s also created a fast-track for expungement of arrest records in cases where defendants have successfully completed a pre-trial diversion program.
Creuzot claimed that probation “is often a lengthy and burdensome process that can actually increase recidivism," and noted that prosecutors have been told “not to ask for jail, state jail, or prison time for ‘technical’ violations” of probation sentences.
The memo outlined the probation term length he expects prosecutors to request for most cases – six months for misdemeanors and state jail felonies, two years for second- and third-degree felonies, and five years for first-degree felonies.
Bail was also on the district attorney’s list of immediate changes.
“This county’s money bail system must be reformed,” he declared. “People sit in jail not because they pose an identifiable danger to the community, but because they cannot pay their fee to go home.”
Offenders often lose their jobs, housing, and ability to take care of their families while incarcerated, Creuzot noted.
“My own moral compass does not allow me to sit and wait for others to decide to act when I also have the power to do so,” he wrote.
Under Creuzot’s new bail policy, prosecutors are required to recommend release without conditions for most misdemeanors and state jail felonies, provided that offenders do not have a prior conviction within the past five years and are not a risk to their victims or communities.
“If a prosecutor believes by clear and convincing evidence that the accused will fail to appear and/or is a danger to the community or victim, then a risk assessment shall be requested to determine what, if any, conditions of release are appropriate to ensure return to court and community safety,” he wrote.
In all other cases, prosecutors are expected to make recommendations that help enable offenders to be released into the community whenever possible.
“The prosecutor’s presumption should be that, unless individuals post a serious safety risk or flight risk, release remains appropriate, but with the least restrictive conditions imposed to ensure community safety and return to court,” Creuzot wrote.
“Monetary conditions should never be requested by a prosecutor unless there has first been an ability to pay determination, and the amount requested should be based on what a person can afford,” he added.