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Texas District Attorney Stops Prosecuting Trace Drug Cases

In 2017, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg changed an office policy by stopping the prosecution of thousands of trace drug cases from the Houston, Texas area. In doing so, Ogg fulfilled promises made during her unsuccessful 2014 campaign and her successful bid for the office in 2016.

Ogg already had a policy of pursuing trace drug cases as a ticketed misdemeanor, not a felony, as had been the previous district attorney’s policy. In justifying the policy change, she said the 2,000 to 4,000 trace amount cases generated each year, typically crack pipes containing a residue of cocaine, were wasting police officers’ time and clogging the courts. Now they won’t be prosecuted at all.

However, the true reason for declining to prosecute these types of cases has nothing to do with court congestion. Instead, Ogg is reportedly worried about police officer safety. The extremely dangerous narcotic fentanyl has become more common in Houston. It is so powerful that it can cause inadvertent overdoses in police simply by handling the drug while field testing. Police started to seek support in stopping the use of field test kits. Ogg’s solution was to stop prosecuting trace cases. Larger amounts of drugs are now sent to the crime lab for testing.

Unlike previous efforts to reform the prosecution of trace cases in Houston, this one is not being opposed by police unions, even if their support is somewhat tepid. Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said they were “not going to make a big deal out of it” so long as “people who break into cars, which we believe are the big crack users” are “hammered” and “not given slaps on the hand” when they are caught.  



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