The Policy and Politics of Drug Sentencing

A Republican judge from Harris County, with the support of the conservative TPPF and the left-leaning TCJC, is working with Democratic lawmakers to reduce the sentences for defendants arrested with trace amounts of illegal drugs. But it takes more than bipartisanship to change people's views on the state's drug laws.
Mon May 6, 2013 8:00 am
AP Photo | Rich Pedroncelli

“My name is Michael McSpadden, judge of the 209th District Court. The court is going to read the charge against you. Please do not respond in any way…”

Thus began a series of ritual playlets between one of the longest-serving judges in Harris County’s criminal courts and a chain of accused men and women, most of them black, with their hands cuffed behind their backs. Typical of the county’s felony court dockets, charges that March morning included murder, aggravated assault, rape, robbery, burglary, indecency with a child—crimes worthy of significant punishment. But, as almost always, the charges against several defendants were for offenses a majority of the judges in Harris County’s 22 district courts do not believe should be a felony: possession of less than a gram of a controlled substance such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, or dozens of derivatives and synthetic analogs.

At an intermission in


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