Stock Up, Stock Down: Harris County Justice in 2017 and Beyond
s Amidst a federal lawsuit against Harris County and Harris County Misdemeanor Court Judges bail policies; amidst county-wide evidence destruction; amidst appellate court findings of prosecutorial misconduct; amidst perjured testimony from government employees; and the jailing of a rape victim, Harris County residents decided change was necessary and come January 1, 2017 a new sheriff, a new district attorney, a new criminal county court at law judge, and nine new criminal district court judges will take their respective seats.
Kim Ogg, the new Harris County District Attorney is a South Texas College of Law Houston College of Law South Texas College of Law Houston alum and will oversee the district attorney’s office for the third largest city in the nation. In her twenty-five year legal career she has spent time as both a prosecutor and defense attorney. Her prior stint in the DA’s office included involvement with the City of Houston’s first anti-gang task force as well as crime stoppers. She is well-qualified for the position as the legal community looks toward the change her campaing platform stood on.
Stock Up: Marijuana, Trace Cases, and Bail Policies
Reports of ending arrests and prosecutions for small amounts of marijuana possession have surfaced and are believed to have the support of new Harris County Sheriff, Ed Gonzalez. For now, marijuana possession under two ounces is a class B misdemeanor, punishable up to 180 days in jail and up to a $2000 fine. Possession up to four ounces is a class A misdemeanor, punishable up to 1 year in jail and up to a $4000 fine. Under the new regime possession of marijuana up to four ounces would not result in an arrest. It is also believed trace (the bare minimum) controlled substance cases will not be prosecuted.
Another area drawing attention is bail reform. In Harris County upward of 75% of all jail inmates are awaiting trial, many for low-level, non-violent offenses unable to afford bail. While personal recognizance (PR) bonds have been available for some time, they are rarely used. The new administration has emphasized prosecutors will be unopposed to PR bonds. To accomplish this task, the judges and magistrates will need to jump aboard and bond company representatives, known to make lucrative donations, must be overcome.
Each of these policies would be a step in the right direction toward ending outdated ideologies. Severely over-crowded jails would become less crowded. Arrest and conviction related job-loss would decline. Court dockets would clear up. These two policies alone would benefit the city of Houston as a whole.
Stock Down: Organized Crime and Gang-Related Activity
On the flip, as a former director of the first anti-gang task force in Houston, one can expect our new district attorney to focus on prosecuting organized crime and gang-related offenses. There have been early mentions of a special prosecutorial division tasked solely with prosecuting and investigating gang members and gang member activity.
The aforementioned ideas are just the tip of the iceberg, and Houston should expect additional changes. Questions surrounding re-filing of previously dismissed charges, pretrial intervention programs, DWI policies, are additional items that will shape the perception of the elected class of 2017.