Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Louisiana Medical Marijuana News
Kenner moves marijuana cases to city court; will boost revenue, help
police, reduce maximum jail time
by Mary Sparacello, The Times-Picayune
Monday September 14, 2009, 4:49 PM
Kenner officials have decided to prosecute misdemeanor marijuana and
drug paraphernalia offenses in Mayor's Court, a move that keeps police
officers on Kenner streets rather than in a Gretna courtroom and nets
the city as much as $350,000 a year but that also reduces the maximum
punishment for some drug offenders.
The City Council recently made possession of marijuana and possession of
drug paraphernalia city crimes, meaning they won't have to be tried in
Louisiana's 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna.
"That's a tremendous amount of time that will be saved," Police Chief
Steve Caraway said. Police can be called to City Hall 15 minutes before
they are needed in court, compared with hours they might spend in the
parish courthouse in Gretna, he said.
"You're there at the pleasure of the judges," Caraway said. "You stay
until you're dismissed."
Kenner joins Gretna, Harahan and Westwego as Jefferson Parish cities
that handle misdemeanor marijuana and drug paraphernalia possession
charges in municipal courts.
"The most important thing is to keep your officers in the city," said
Westwego Police Chief Dwayne "Poncho" Munch. "It's a proven fact: High
visibility reduces crime."
Kenner's drug court will be held on Fridays at 9 a.m. and finish by
noon, City Attorney Keith Conley said. Assistant City Attorney Howat
Peters will prosecute the cases. A magistrate and an alternate will be
assigned to preside over the court. "This will give the court
consistency, " Conley said.
When possession charges are tried in the 24th Judicial District Court,
Kenner gets none of the fine money, City Council members said. Fines in
Mayor's Court will be split between City Hall and the Police Department.
The Police Department makes an average of 28 simple marijuana possession
arrests a month, said Lt. Wayne McInnis, a department spokesman. Drug
paraphernalia arrests often accompany marijuana possession cases,
If 28 people received the maximum fines for both offenses, Kenner would
collect about $350,000.
Though the fine for first-time possession is the same in Kenner Mayor's
Court and state District Court, an offender in Mayor's Court faces a
maximum jail sentence of only 60 days, compared with a six-month maximum
in District Court.
Also, city convictions may not be used to enhance any future state drug
charges. That was a concern that Orleans Parish Criminal District Court
judges raised when Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro last month
floated the idea of moving misdemeanor marijuana cases to municipal
Conley said Kenner will handle only misdemeanor, first-time offenses.
And in practice, first-time offenders in District Court don't get jail
time at all, unless their probation is revoked, said Conley, who worked
21 years for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.
"Additionally, in the unlikely event that a defendant is remanded to
custody, they will likely be released due to prison overcrowding, "
Conley said. "We feel that justice will be served through Kenner Mayor's
Caraway said making possession a city offense has a "number of
benefits," including that Kenner officers will be better able to track
the cases in Mayor's Court than in District Court.
Council members unanimously praised the measure for the fine money that
will stay in Kenner's coffers and the new laws' effect of keeping police
officers "patrolling the streets in Kenner," Councilwoman Jeannie Black
said. "This is very good, positive legislation. "
Mary Sparacello can be reached at msparacello@ timespicayune. com or
http://www.nola. com/crime/ index.ssf/ 2009/09/kenner_ moves_marijuana_ cases\