Earlier this year Harris County unveiled a new First Chance Intervention program. It is intended for first time offenders charged with Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana for up to 2 ounces. The purpose of this program is to give first time offenders a free chance at a dismissal for possession of a small amount of marijuana. This will also hopefully help with the cluttered court rooms in Harris County.
Who is the First Chance Intervention Program for?
This is a great program for individuals to apply for once they have had a chance to hire a lawyer and investigate the case. As a defense attorney, the problem that I see is the fact that defendants are not given the opportunity in court to fully investigate the charges in these cases. Individuals are screened quickly and most are eager to jump at the opportunity for a dismissal, whether they are legally guilty or not.
This is understandable to a point because the program is easy to complete once accepted. The way it works is the person is screened for the program, and if accepted they enter into a contract with the State of Texas, much in the way they enter into a contract on a normal pre-trial intervention. This program however is much easier to complete. Based on a screening, individuals will have to do one of two things:
- 8 hours of community service OR
- A drug class
One top of one of those 2 options, the person will also have to pay a $130 fee for participating in the program. They also have to comply with normal conditions such as staying drug and alcohol free, going to court when told, not breaking the law, etc.
Timeline for First Chance Intervention Program
These cases are being placed on the court schedule 100 days after the contract is signed. Once the fee is paid and the class/community service is done, the case is dismissed off docket. So technically, if you are really serious about the first chance intervention program, you can get it done in less than a week.
Sadly, I have had clients who have signed up for the first chance intervention program and did NOTHING. This is absolutely ridiculous considering how easy this program is. It offers a free dismissal and a chance at a limited expunction in the future. This is a broad overview of the program, if you have specific questions ask an attorney. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position where this is an option for you, then it is best to take it seriously. Even small misdemeanor drug convictions can have a long and lasting negative affect on your life!
Harris County’s new program, the First Chance Intervention Program has been initiative by the DA’s Office, in cooperation with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Houston Police Department. It is for individuals caught with a class B amount (0-2 ounces) of marijuana.
Eligibility for First Chance Intervention Program
A person is considered a first offender and is eligible to participate in the First Chance Intervention Program program if he or she:
- Is detained or arrested for possession of marijuana, 2 ounces or less;
- Possesses sufficient identifying information;
- Has no additional charges out of the instant detention/arrest (other than Class C tickets);
- Has no outstanding warrants or holds (including Class C charges);
- Has no criminal convictions as an adult (Class B offense or greater);
- Has never received probation or deferred adjudication (Class B offense or greater);
- Is not currently on bond, deferred adjudication or probation (Class B offense or greater); and
- Has not previously participated in this program or another pretrial intervention program.
If a person is arrested the arresting officer will advise the person detained about the program. If the person detained is interested in participating in the program, Pre Trial Services will be notified of their interest, they will be provided with program information, and released. The person then has three days to contact Pre Trial Services to schedule an assessment. Based upon the assessment, the person will be offered a 60 day program during which they will be required to perform 8 hours of community service, or offered a 90 day program during which they will be required to participate in an 8 hour cognitive skills class. There is a non-refundable fee for the program of $100. Should a participant fail to comply with the requirements of the program, the charge will be entered into the system and an arrest warrant will be issued for the individual. If the person successfully completes the First Chance Intervention program no charges will be filed related to the arrest.
Since the First Chance Intervention Program program is a pilot with only the Houston Police Department and the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, any individual arrested by another agency who would otherwise be eligible for the program will be arrested and appear on the Misdemeanor Court dockets. At that point they will be assessed at 49 San Jacinto, behind the courthouse, and if accepted they will do a type of pre-trial diversion with the above 60 or 90 day requirement.
Completing the Program
Pre-Trial Services will notify the Harris County District Attorney’s Office if the participant has successfully completed the program or violated the conditions of the agreement. For defendants that violate the terms of the agreement, the criminal case will resume until disposition. If the defendant has successfully completed the program, the prosecutor will dismiss the case and send a letter to the defense attorney advising him that his case has been dismissed, and that he does not need to return to court. The hope is that once the defendant has signed up for the First Chance Intervention program, they will not need to return to court.
When charged with a crime, especially in Harris County, it is very important to remain drug and alcohol free while on bond. This could potentially be the case even if you are not charged with a crime that involves alcohol and/or drugs.
Of course drugs are illegal, so you shouldn’t be doing them anyway. But it seems silly to tell people that they shouldn’t be drinking when it’s legal. I agree, but unfortunately, some judges do not care if it is legal, if they know you are drinking they could potentially take your bond away and put you back in jail.
One particular case I worked on recently was a possession of Marijuana case. I warned my client ahead of time to not do drugs and to always be on time to court. In an effort to try to get the case dismissed, I sent my client to take a drug test (which he passed). He took this test on a Friday, and his court date was Monday. Since he was clean and passed his drug test on Friday, he figured it was ok to do drugs during the weekend.
Fast forward to Monday, and my client shows up late to court. The judge asked about the status of the case, and then he sent my client to get drug tested (warning him that a failed drug test would result in his bond being revoked). My client sits in the probation department for hours, claiming that he doesn’t have to urinate, and then eventually leaves. He doesn’t go back to court, and now he has a warrant for his arrest. I have not heard from him since. He went from having the opportunity to get his case dismissed, to making his problems three times as bad.
Alcohol related cases sometimes carry a pre-trial consequence of having an ignition interlock placed in your vehicle. If you do not have a vehicle, an at home interlock might be assigned. If you end up in a bad court, you could possibly even have a SCRAM device (an ankle monitor which takes a reading from your sweat glands to see if you have been drinking) installed on your person.
Similar to the consequences listed above, if you blow into your interlock device with alcohol, or if you SCRAM monitor reads alcohol, you run the risk of your bond being revoked.
While most of the time interlocks are used for alcohol related cases (DWI mostly), I have seen them used on cases such as Failure to Stop and Give Information (Hit and Run) and Domestic Violence Cases.
Whether or not this happens on your case depends a lot on the court you are placed in, and the judge who is hearing your case. Most criminal attorneys in Houston who work consistently in the Criminal Justice Center can give you an idea of the tendencies of the judge handling your case.