and Mike Linn
WETUMPKA -- An increasing caseload has a local prosecutor looking for ways to give some people who run afoul of the law a second chance.
District Attorney Randall Houston represents the 19th Judicial Circuit, which includes Autauga, Chilton and Elmore counties. He's seeking legislation to establish a pre-trial diversion program for first-time, nonviolent offenders.
"As the counties in the circuit grow, we are seeing more and more cases involving people who basically just made a stupid decision," said Houston, who is known for his hard-nosed approach to justice and sometimes inflammatory comments about crime and criminals. "They are in their mid-20s to late 40s, have good jobs and families and have never been in trouble before. For whatever reason, they decide to try marijuana and get caught. They deserve to face some type of consequences, but I don't think you should destroy someone's life in a situation like that."
Under the proposed program, a person would plead guilty and participate in a six- to nine-month counseling program and pay any and all restitution and court costs. If they complete the program, the charge won't go on their record. The person would be responsible for paying the $200 to $300 cost of the program.
"I don't want the taxpayers footing the bill for this. I want the person who did the crime paying the cost," Houston said. "If they don't complete the program, they go back before a judge and we start all over again. A felony follows you forever. There are ways to get your record expunged, but an FBI number doesn't go away. Under this program, a person who gets a little sideways can still go to college, keep their job, vote or even go to law school."
Hell, sounds like Randall Houston was in attendance at my speech last week in his town along with the mayor and it looks as though some of what I said is rubbing off on them.
I personally don't feel diversion programs are needed for people who smoke pot....but this is a small step in the right direction and much better than prison.