WICHITA — Tension is building between some leaders in the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County after the Wichita City Council voted Tuesday not to prosecute people who are caught with marijuana. While the city council still has one more reading before these kinds of misdemeanors are no longer prosecuted in municipal court, county officials warn because the district attorney’s office rarely prosecutes misdemeanor cases, the ordinance will only clog an already crowded system.
“So, you all pay for misdemeanor appointments,” District Attorney Marc Bennett told the Sedgwick Board of County Commissioners Wednesday.
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Bennett says the county could face significant financial impacts if Wichita passes an estimated 1,200-1,500 cases to his office each year.
“Probation, forensic science, the costs associated with testing all that marijuana,” Bennett said.
While the district attorney’s office can control how many cases it will prosecute, Sheriff Jeff Easter says he anticipates a major influx in bookings in a jail that is constantly nearing capacity.
“They can no longer just issue an NTA (Notice to Appear) and walk away. They have to arrest them and book them by state statute,” Sheriff Easter said.
Bennett says his biggest concern involving the city’s ordinance is the concept of ‘double jeopardy.’
“This notion that there’s 750 cases as if they are stand-alone cases where the person is only charged with one joint in his pocket. That’s not reality,” Bennett said.
But criminal defense lawyer Dan Monnat says the system can handle the change, allowing the City to reallocate time and resources to other, more serious cases.
“We’re eliminating prosecutions in one jurisdiction, so that doesn’t cost more money,” Monnat said.
Meanwhile, the Wichita Police Department is still working out a plan to move forward with these kinds of arrests. Experts say they do not anticipate an increase or decrease in racial profiling as a result of this ordinance.
“I think there needs to be checks and balances in policy, and there needs to be early warning signs that police officials need to recognize in their officers,” Dr. Michael Birzer, professor of criminal justice at Wichita State University, said.
Commissioner David Dennis is urging the Board of County Commissioners to consider a resolution in the near future regarding how to bill the City of Wichita for all additional expenses pertaining to this ordinance.
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