Most people arrested or cited solely for possessing small amounts of drugs in Contra Costa County will no longer be charged by prosecutors, the District Attorney’s Office announced this week. First-time offenders will instead be referred to healthcare services in the community.
The new policy also reduces the likelihood of charges being filed in other nonviolent misdemeanor cases such as shoplifting, petty theft, trespassing and disorderly conduct, unless the case involves repeat offenders.
Originally initiated as a pilot program and now formalized in the DA’s Office, the policy pertains to first-time, stand-alone, nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, as listed below this story. However, the policy allows prosecutors to use their discretion to determine if criminal charges are appropriate. Pre-filing diversion is also available for individuals in lieu of a formal criminal complaint.
There are cases in which the policy might not apply, such as when the person is on probation, has been arrested on three previous occasions in the past year for a misdemeanor drug offense, or if the amount of theft in a misdemeanor case is over $300, the DA’s Office said.
“The idea is to divert low-level recreational [drug] users out of the criminal justice system and into the health care system with the goals of both reducing the strain in the courts and on law enforcement, and also by providing treatment options for the user,” according to the DA’s office.
The policy developed after the presiding judge of the court contacted Becton and Public Defender Robin Lipetzky about the need to reduce the backlog of low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors in the court system. The backlog slowed down court operations and became a financial burden on law enforcement agencies and the courts, the DA’s office said. At the same time, changes in laws regarding personal drug use have changed the dynamics of prosecuting low-level drug cases, it said.
DA Diana Becton believes the policy will allow her office to focus on more significant concerns such as criminal street gangs, drug dealers, violent criminals, and cases involving firearms.
“The aim of these considerations is to stop chronic patterns of arrest and to connect individuals to community based behavioral health services,” the DA’s Office said.
Becton said she will periodically review and possibly modify the policy to ensure it is effective.
“When I took office, I realized we had to change our perspective on filing cases, especially low-level drug cases,” Becton said in a statement. “From my experience as a judge I saw first-hand how individuals were cycling through our system. Now as the district attorney, I worked with several law enforcement partners throughout the county to build a plan and gain consensus on how best to proceed with these types of cases. We cannot prosecute ourselves out of this growing trend of low-level offenses being submitted to our Office for a filing decision.”
Misdemeanor Filing Considerations
FIRST-TIME AND STAND-ALONE OFFENSES
For the offenses below, do not file a case predicated upon these statutes if the individual is a first-time offender or this is a stand alone charge. Consider use of CAPS, Infracting, or a Probation Violation as appropriate.
If an individual becomes a repeat offender, review all cases to include any previously unfiled incidents.
Note: For any of the below offenses, these considerations do not apply if:
- There are multiple violations (2 or more within a 12-month period)
- Theft cases: amount of stolen items is $300 or more
- Defendant is currently on probation
- Low net weight cases of controlled substances will generally not be filed unless there are three or more misdemeanor drug offenses or another qualifying exception within a 12-month period
The misdemeanor charges these considerations encompass are as follows:
- BP 4060 — Possession of Controlled Substance
- BP 4140 — Possession of Hypodermic or Syringe
- HS 11357 — Possession of Marijuana
- HS 11364 — Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
- HS 11350 — Possession of Controlled Substance
- HS 11377 — Possession of Controlled Substance
- HS 11550 — Under the Influence of Controlled Substance
- PC 415 — Disturbing the Peace
- PC 459.5 — Shoplifting
- PC 466 — Possession of Burglar Tools
- PC 484 — Petty Theft
- PC 602 — Trespass
- PC 647(f) — Disorderly Conduct
If an individual is already on Probation, consider electing to file a Probation Violation in Lieu of a new docket. Consult with your supervising DDA as appropriate.
Infract the below vehicle code offenses. Note: this does not apply to VC 14601.2 and VC 14601.5 offenses.
STATUTE NAME OF STATUTE ACTION
- VC 12500 — Unlicensed Driver INFRACT
- VC 14601.1 — Non-DUI Suspended or Revoked License INFRACT