Misdemeanors can result in an arrest and weeks of jail time, but a new in Harris County, Texas initiative called the Cite and Release Program may make it possible for individuals who commit certain misdemeanors to avoid jail time altogether, including the initial arrest itself.
While the program will help some individuals avoid any jail time, it is not a universal privilege. The Cite and Release Program only extends to six misdemeanor charges, and some of those must still meet specific guidelines to be considered eligible.
In February 2020, Harris County law enforcement leadership introduced a Cite and Release Program that allows for some low-level misdemeanor charges to be addressed in the same manner as traffic citations such as speeding tickets. The program is expected to be up and running soon.
The Cite and Release Program is only applicable to six specific misdemeanor charges:
- Contraband in a correctional facility
- Criminal mischief with damages
- Driving without a valid license (some stipulations apply)
- Graffiti with damages
- Possession of certain drugs (some stipulations apply)
- Theft and theft of service
It is worth noting that there are several exceptions to the Cite and Release Program, including individuals that:
- Are younger than seventeen years of age
- Are on parole
- Are not residents of Harris County
- Are considered a safety threat (being drunk, threatening others, etc.)
- Have an outstanding warrant
- Need medical attention
How the Harris County Cite and Release Program Works
With the introduction of the Cite and Release Program, individuals committing one of the above misdemeanor charges would be issued a citation rather than being arrested. While each individual’s situation is different, the program generally follows these six steps:
- A Harris County resident is stopped for one of the above offenses.
- Law enforcement is obligated to check for active warrants relating to the individual.
- Law enforcement must collaborate with the district attorney’s office to establish if the individual qualifies for the Cite and Release Program.
- If a prosecutor accepts the charges, law enforcement can complete the citation that is signed by the resident.
- The individual is presented with a court date and is then free to go. However, even if a suspect is eligible for the Cite and Release Program, law enforcement may decline the individual participation if they get a supervisor’s approval and provide a detailed report for their reasoning.
- Cite and release cases will then be addressed in a court of law the same as if arrested and then released on a bail or personal recognizance bond.
Will the Harris County Cite and Release Program help me avoid jail time with a misdemeanor?
The circumstances surrounding each individual’s situation will vary, however, if you meet the specific requirements and there are no extenuating circumstances, you may never set foot inside the Harris County jail.
Prior to the introduction of this program, individuals stopped for one of the six misdemeanors listed above would have likely been arrested. With the implementation of this program, it may be possible for this same subset of individuals to avoid jail time altogether.
Benefits of Enlisting the Help of an Attorney
If you or a loved one should find yourself the recipient of a citation issued as the result of the Cite and Release Program, the next step will be for the case to be addressed in a court of law. As soon as a citation is received, the individual should consider contacting a knowledgeable and experienced Harris County criminal defense attorney.
Dismissal of the case is always the goal. Some of the top benefits of enlisting the help of an experienced local Harris County, Texas attorney can include:
- Court case presentation skills. These are a must. Prosecutors know the defense lawyers who have an extensive understanding of Texas law and how to present a solid defense in front of a jury. It is these lawyers who get the most dismissals, Not Guilty verdicts and other favorable settlements. An individual who chooses representation without a good reputation are limiting the chances of a favorable outcome.
- Knowledge of Harris County courts. An experienced local attorney will have an intimate understanding of the Harris County court system and current court personnel. This can prove to be invaluable.
- Access to an extended legal network. A reputable Harris County attorney typically has access to a wide network of knowledge and support from esteemed colleagues, paralegals, and office staff. A legal team comprised of these individuals can make for a more solid defense.
Choosing an Attorney
Choosing the right attorney to represent you in a court of law can be paramount to your case’s success. In legal situations where time is of the essence, it can be tempting to choose an attorney that is a friend of a friend out of convenience, or who has sent you an unsolicited letter. However, that choice can come at a cost if that attorney is neither experienced nor qualified.
Be sure to do your homework ahead of time in choosing a Harris County criminal defense attorney. Meet him or her face to face in their office. Your case is too important not to take the time necessary. Most successful lawyers will make themselves available on your schedule, such on nights and weekends. Look for experience, competence, and success. Research online reputations. Make sure the attorney fee is reasonable. Not too high, and not too low. Before signing any fee agreement, the attorney should take you through the entire contract thoroughly.
Q: Am I eligible for the Harris County Cite and Release Program?
A: If you meet the specific requirements of the program without any extenuating circumstances, you may be eligible for the program. You will find out when you are given the opportunity to sign a citation instead of being taken to jail.
Q: Do you have to be a certain age to participate in the Cite and Release Program?
A: Individuals must be at least seventeen years old to be eligible.
Q: Do I still get jail time with the Cite and Release Program?
A: This depends on the facts of your case, your criminal background, and other factors. Many, if not most, eligible for the Cite and Release Program will avoid jail time.
Q: If I live in Montgomery County, am I eligible for the Cite and Release Program?
A: The Harris County Cite and Release Program is only available to Harris County residents.
Q: Why do I need a lawyer if I am in the Cite and Release Program?
A: The Cite and Release Program is designed to reduce the jail population, the inconvenience, missed days at work, tow charges, bail bond premiums, and the other costs arising from the initial arrest of these six non-violent crimes. Its purpose is not to provide a legal defense to the charge crime. Theft, for example, is a crime of moral turpitude. Even a misdemeanor theft can close doors. Driving while license invalid can result in an additional license suspension if not handled properly. Any of the six crimes can cause long term negative consequences. As with any crime, “persons who represent themselves have a fool for a client.”
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