By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies can now issue a ticket or summons for those caught committing misdemeanor offenses — including the possession of small amounts of marijuana — instead of taking them into custody, Sheriff Mark Pettway announced Monday.
The new procedure is known as the ‘big ticket’ citation and allows a non-violent misdemeanor crime to be addressed without an arrest.
“I, along with Jefferson County District Attorney, agree that this ‘big ticket’ citation approach is the best way for us to address minor crimes and to keep deputies on their assigned beats,” said Pettway. “This will eliminate the need for deputies to be out of service for two hours and will keep them available to protect and serve the citizens in our county.”
“Big ticket” citations will be issued for marijuana possession, second-degree or misdemeanor possession of a drug or paraphernalia and result in a court appearance instead of jail. However, violators could still end up in jail if misdemeanor offenses are tied to more serious crimes.
The citation will also cover other misdemeanors such as a minor in possession of alcohol, criminal littering and fireworks violation, said Captain David Agee, a spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
The move is a step toward criminal justice reform “which people always talk about,” Agee said.
“Well this is more than just talk, this is action,” said Agee. “I think this will be very big for the community and it’s going to be big for us.”
Pettway said the citations make available additional deputies to cover beats; make patrol cars more visible and available; and help eliminate overcrowding in county jails when they’re no longer stacked with misdemeanor cases.
“We feel our new ‘Big Ticket’ approach will increase our efficiency and save and redirect precious taxpayers’ dollars so we can continue to fight violent crimes and protect our citizens,” said the Sheriff. “It also will go a long way to address the overcrowding problem we see in our county jail.”
Agee said the move could possibly help rehabilitate some.
“Those who want help will be able to get help . . . I think we have some very progressive leaders who are not afraid to do what needs to be done. We are in agreement with [Jefferson County District Attorney] Danny Carr and [Bessemer Cutoff DA] Lynneice Washington. We are on the same page that this needs to be done.”
Carr has said he believes a simple possession case should be solved with a “cite and release” method, and no jail time.
“Almost like a traffic or parking ticket, treating it just like a traffic stop basically,” Carr said. “Citation and release and let them go on and they’ll come to court at a later date.”
“The big thing is you won’t be jailed,” he said. “You’ll be cited and released just like a traffic ticket and then when you come to court, there will be a small fine.”
Carr agreed with Pettway that the county’s resources could be used in a better way.
“That would alleviate the issue of taking them to jail, having them booked in and an officer having to be taken off the street, transporting a person to jail, in essence allowing the officer to stay on the street and continue patrolling the area for violent crime,” Carr said.
State law allows a first marijuana possession to be a misdemeanor, but the second conviction is a felony.
“Right now, the law is clear that if you get caught a second time, regardless of the amount, it’s a felony charge,” Carr said.
ABC 33/40 contributed to this report.