The policy dictates that the Office will no longer file State Jail Felony Possession of a Controlled Substance charges on cases where only residue or "trace" amounts of the drug are recovered when a person is arrested. These types of cases are most commonly filed when a person is arrested still carrying a crack pipe, but the crack has long since been smoked. Under the law, felony charges may be brought if there is a detectable (as opposed to usable) amount of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, or meth recovered. As a matter of contrast, for a person to be charged with the misdemeanor charge of Possession of Marijuana, there must be a usable amount recovered. There is no such requirement for the "harder" drugs that fall in the felony level, and it is not unusual to see charges found on drug cases where the amount in question is .001 grams.
The decision of whether or not to file Trace Cases is a controversial one.
The arguments in favor of filing them typically come from police officers who rightfully point out that residue cases are evidence of larger amounts of the drugs that have already been consumed. The police further believe that the cases help keep those troublesome junkies off the streets, which will trickle down into a reduction in burglaries, rapes, and other violent crimes. They also point out that drug addicts use the drugs almost immediately upon acquiring them, making it virtually impossible to catch them with their usable amounts.
I've gone on record before as being against the filing of Trace Cases. (From the Intellectual Honesty Department, I supported my arch-nemesis Pat Lykos' policy when she stopped filing them in December of 2009.) It isn't that I'm in favor of smoking crack. I've never tried it myself. For me, it is an issue of manpower and resources. I remember that shortly before the Lykos policy, I was driving on Beltway 8 with my oldest son when a car sideswiped the rear panel of my 4-Runner and kept on trucking. I got a license plate number and called the police. It was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, but no officer was called out or responded. About six hours later, the police called back to ask if I was still at the scene.
But, the crack pipe cases were still being filed wild fire. I just believe it is a better use of resources to focus on other crimes than these. I know a lot of people in law enforcement read this blog and are going to disagree with me on this. I'm bracing myself for the backlash.
On a lighter note, I do think that it is rather amusing that the notice of the new policy did not come in the form of a press release or email to All Prosecutors. Apparently the Ogg Administration was doing a "soft roll out" by just leaving notes for the prosecutors working intake.
"Due to budget cuts, we are using new methods
of sharing officewide memos."
Expect there to be a lot of complaining from the police unions and Ogg opponents who will make the argument that Ogg is "legalizing drugs." Don't buy into that argument. Police officers have the absolute right to arrest someone for possessing a crack pipe (or other residue holding item) and file a Class C Misdemeanor of Possession of Drug Paraphernalia case.
It's still a crime, just not a felony.