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Sentencing: Texas Judges Call for Reducing Drug Possession Penalties

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #569)
Consequences of Prohibition

Two years ago, Houston State District Court Judge Michael McSpadden stood alone when he called on Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) to support lowering simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Last year, he was still alone. But this year, McSpadden is making the same call, and this time, he has the support of 15 more judges.

As the state legislature got underway last week, McSpadden and his colleagues sent a letter to top state officials and Houston's state representatives urging them to change what he called the state's "draconian" drug laws. The judges want to see possession of less than one gram of a controlled substance reduced from a state jail felony to a misdemeanor.

"Sixteen of us feel that it's just unfair to be convicted for a residue amount and be labeled a felon, which changes your whole life," McSpadden said. "We're not talking about legalizing it; we're talking about making it a misdemeanor."

In addition to calling for a downgrading of drug possession charges, McSpadden's letter urged mandating drug treatment for offenders and funding misdemeanor drug courts. He said simple possession drug felonies account for 25% to 30% of Harris County's 22 criminal district court dockets and that Harris County prosecutors routinely charge as felonies offenses that are charged as misdemeanors in other parts of the state, leading to disparate treatment among counties.

"The 'War on Drugs' isn't working, and we as judges realize it, and the public realizes it," wrote McSpadden, along with fellow Republican judge cosigners Debbie Mantooth Stricklin, Jeannine Barr, Vanessa Velasquez, Denise Collins, Marc Carter, Belinda Hill, Joan Campbell and Jim Wallace, and Democratic judge cosigners Ruben Guerrero, Shawna Reagin, Kevin Fine, David Mendoza, Randy Roll, Hazel Jones and Maria Jackson.

But will the legislature listen? Last year, McSpadden's efforts never made it out of the House crime committee. But now, the budget squeeze is on, and McSpadden has come up with some reinforcements, so perhaps the proposal will get a little further down the legislative road.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Come on people. This is Texas were talking about. Conservative Captiol of the U.S. Saving money and jail space is a nice angle to try out but I doubt it will succeed at all. J. VELASCO Brownsville Texas.

Tue, 01/27/2009 - 1:15pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I was convicted in Harris County for Possession of a conntrolled substance in 1996. I can't believe the process that this took. I completed my felony probation and the case was closed. I had less than 1 gran of cocaine in my car that didn't belong to me. I don't think that its fair that I can't get a decent job now because of this. I do not hang around those kind of people any more and have not been in trouble since. The amount of money and time that is put into these sinple cases are clogging up the felony courts. In he meantime the "true" felons are getting away with crimes that deserve the prison space and time that simple crimes such as a posession charge are taking up. At present, the sentence is a state jail felony, there is wait time to get to the state jail, then you are let out on parole. This makes no sense when you think about how much all this costs. I do not thik George Bush considered this when he was governor and made his "lock em up and throw away the key" philosophy. He built all those prisons and couoldn't find the money to run them all. He thought he would make maney off the federal government by "housing inmates" more of your tax money going to failed programs. McSpadden is right in proposing this, and although I am a convicted felon speaking from first hand experience in Harris County criminal courts, I do agree with him. I have a different view on how the court system works and do respect the courts now. However in most states a simple act of possessing less than 1 gram is a misdameanor

Mon, 02/02/2009 - 8:06pm Permalink
writer13 (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Hi there, I'm working on a story right now about aftermath problems associated with being jailed for low-level offenses. Specifically in Harris County. I'm primarily looking for someone who was unable to make bond initially. If this is you and you would like to tell your story, I'd love to talk. Please give me a call at 713-280-2434.



Thu, 08/20/2015 - 11:13pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

you are incorrect. less than one gram of a controlled substance is a state jail felony in texas, punishable by 6 months to 2 years in state jail. believe me, we are living through the nightmare right now.

Tue, 08/04/2009 - 7:04pm Permalink
screwed in texas (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I was pulled over & an old bag containing less than $5.00 (1/20) of meth was found in my car, I have a clean record , never been in trouble! the sheriffs dept not only charged me with a felony but also seized my $5000.00 car. I am preparing to go before the cival court in attemp to get my car back they are saying i got my vehicle from the procedes of narcotics! WOW i need to know where i can buy a car for $5.00!

Fri, 04/23/2010 - 9:13pm Permalink
Annie Hammons (not verified)

I strongly feel that we have to do something in our society to address this issue. We continue to allow drugs to sift into our society and then we are ruining these young kids lives when they experiment with them. My 19 year old son was arrested for possession of 1 pill. This is his first ever drug charge. He made a mistake but his entire life has been permantely effected by this mistake. He has a felony on his record preventing him from pursuing a career as a firefighter, x-ray tech, or airline mechanic the three top choices for his career. He was given a 5 year probation along with this felony that was not adjudicated. He has been sitting in jail for nearly 6 months because a judge decided he needed rehab although he was evaluated by a drug and alcohol rehab counselor and stated he did not have a drug problem that was severe enough to need rehab. He is waiting on a bed for a rehab facility and will have to do another 6 months in a rehab and then get out and do the 5 years probation but the maximum on this sentence is 2 years. This child's life has been totally turned upside down due to the possession of 1 pill. But we have pro ball players spending 24 days in jail for killing a child, what is wrong with our legal system?

Tue, 07/14/2009 - 1:27am Permalink
itsgottostop (not verified)

When my daughter turned 18 she wanted to live on her own and was convinced she could do it by a 32 year old felon who had a background of drug abuse, as did his family. This man had her thinking he was the best thing that had ever happend to her. She let him drive her car, rented an apartment in her name, and many other stupid things. Making a long story short, she was stopped and there were drugs in the trunk of the car, "trace" of meth and some xanac, with all the other items that belonged to him. She spent two weeks in jail because I did not have the $1500 to bail her out. It was exactly one year from the day she was arrested to the day they indicted her. Since no one, not even our attorney, knew she had been indicted, her picture was in the local paper as one of the "10 most wanted" along with a murderer. She lost her job, had to give herself up, pay another $1500 in bond, and pay the attorney another $7500 (we had already paid him $1500 to get her car back (they wanted seize it) and $3000 to retain him) for him to go to court. The DA has offered her 10 years probabtion and she would keep the felony charges, but we said HELL NO, so we are paying another $4000 to go to trial. If she if found guilty of these charges she will be a felon for life! She will not have a chance to be a productive member of society because she was stupid at 18. She will not be able to vote, get help to go to college, become anything that requires a background check. I am a teacher and if it had not been for my parents she would be using a public defender and have no chance of a life. We still don't know what will happen because the DA will not back off. I hope he has a daughter that makes a stupid mistake at 18 and there is nothing he can do about it. I wish I knew how many kids this has happened to! How many of them are in jail because they couldn't pay the outrageous fines or couldn't keep up with probation because they either don't have a car, have to work, etc etc etc. We are just making a state of seasoned criminals by putting this non-violent young people in prison.

Sun, 11/08/2009 - 1:09am Permalink
Alan M Bedgood (not verified)

My story started in 2000 when I was pulled over and found having residue in a bag as well. this was when I was 17 and was young and stupid lets face it most of us do stupid stuff when were young. Allthough when I was going to court over all this I somhow mixed up the dates of when i was supposed to be in court. when I realized it it was too late and I was freeking out. But in the midst of my delima either that day or the fallowing I recieved a call from my mother stating that my son was living with her, because his mother didnt want him where she was staying. So not even thinking about it I left my worries of Denton county behind and Came to be with my son. Picking up any odd jobs I could trying to stay under the radar to provide for him. after a month My X and I got back togather and had 2 more beautiful children over then next 2 years. But it was inevitable I was at work doing door to door sales with a partner and one of the store i had gone into and was about to wrap up a sale when my pasrner walked in and agrivated the shop owner. So we left but only to be stoped by police on our way out. Ended up going to jail for an open warrent and put onto probation for 4 years. I did everything the courts asked of me when I could fit it into my scedual which consisted of 10 to 14hour days at work to provide for my 3 children and my now ex-wife as well as her 2 brothers. after which I would go on side jobs to make extra money. But after spending so much time trying to keep up with it all I admit I cracked under the preasure and started smoking marijuana which leveled out my adhd and bipolar states that i had been medicated for with perscription drugs all through my high school years. But doing all that work and extra stuff for probation left me no time to see a doc for anything nor did i have the money to afford it. So needless to say my probation was revoked for dirty ua. when that happend we moved and the job i had was paying me cash so I was able to stay in that job and in that field for 6 years and became very good at it. As a sheet metal worker installing ac ducts for anything from homes to jewelery stores to movie theaters. I moved up from a helper to a foreman in 3 years which would normally take at least 6 to 8 and some never get to that point. But despite all that i tried to do for my family and as hard as i worked on my job and my home life I wasnt happy. When my X-wife and I split she took everything cuz I barrly made it out with the pants I had on when her and the brothers I had taken care of for 6years jumped me in our appartment. I have sence moved back to Fort worth and have been barely able to make it mainly because after that incodent my x has kept me from seeing my children or even talking to them on the phone. Now I cant get a job atleast not legally and I cant provide for my children that i cant even fight to try and see cant get a lisence cant do anything cuz I dont have the money and I dont want to give up my time on this earth behind bars. Because I still have people that depend on me. Thankfully my uncle is wanting to help me take care of all these problems now but after all that has happened im affraid I am gonna be behind bars. I have been a decent person and haven't been in any kind of trouble in the last 10 years and Im tired of running I need to get this taken care of so I can provide for my childen and get on with a normal life. If there is anything that I can do to please someone help.

Wed, 03/17/2010 - 4:04am Permalink
matthew swaner (not verified)

I had came out of a tire shop from having a flat and a houston police officers had stop me sayin that the reason for stopping me was for a fake paper plate that was good until the 21 of April he ask me for my drivers license and insurance I hand him my I d and the insurance on the car he then pulled me out the car while the other officer began to search my car minute after he found some crack rock on the passenger side I then knew that i was goin to jail I then ask the officer what was I charge wit officer said possession lot a control substance and suspension drivers license and no insurance I never owned a license officer said if i say the drugs was mine then someone can get my car me not owning up to something that wasn't mine got me sent to jail and my car towed i was in a friends yard when the lights came on my car wasn't in the street officer was upset cuz I didn't own up to the substance now I'm out on bond awaiting for court.

Mon, 04/26/2010 - 1:00pm Permalink
didn't do it (not verified)

i was at my house shooting a music video in my kitchen and cops came to my back door assuming that i was another black guy calling out his name so i stepped out my back door and clearly stated that i was not that individual but still grabbed me and threw me on the ground and cuffed me and went into my backdoor and found weed on my kitchen table with no search warrant and took me to jail and continued searching my home while i was in deputy car. does anyone have advice for that situation?

Tue, 09/21/2010 - 12:09am Permalink

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