Posted on May 12, 2021

Rotary Club of Mineral Wells today welcomed Palo Pinto County District Attorney Kriste Burnett, pictured left, as this week's guest speaker. She was introduced by this week's program chair and Palo Pinto County Attorney Maegan Hodgkins Kostiha.

Kriste might have been tempted to address Rotary members in attendance as “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury ...” Those are not words Burnett has been able to use much this past year as the pandemic hampered the ability to conduct criminal trials and proceedings in the 29th State District Court. Kriste recently was finally able to conduct a grand jury session resulting in 51 felony indictments.

As district attorney, Kriste is responsible for prosecuting all felony criminal cases filed in Palo Pinto County. She said she typically has more than 500 pending cases. With only one state district court – which also hears and tries a variety of civil cases – Kriste is typically able to schedule just one criminal trial a month.

She said in order to expedite cases she – as is customary with nearly all prosecutors – offers plea bargains for defendants that will usually give them an opportunity to plead guilty and accept punishment or conditions that would likely be less than if they were convicted and sentenced by a jury if the case went to trial. It is sometimes a roll of the dice for a defendant, or simply the chance for them to accept responsibility and the consequences and move forward.

What plea bargain Kriste's office offers will depend greatly on the charge, or charges, and the defendant charged. A low-level felony offense involving a first-time offender with no significant criminal history would likely be treated differently than a career criminal charged with a serious felony offense.

Kriste engaged the club with a question – one that has arose in previous Texas legislative sessions and is part of the current session, though Kriste said it does not appear the bill will advance far in the regular session. The question is whether to legalize marijuana in Texas.

There are pros and cons on both sides of the question, and Kriste acknowledged she has mixed feelings on the issue. However, she said her office has been dealing with the problem of people bringing back products – edibles – containing THC from neighboring states that have legalized marijuana, for either recreational or medical use. She said a major concern of hers is that some of these products are designed in a way they are attractive to kids, such as marijuana lollipops or brownies, and in some cases they are marketed to young people.

In Texas, any amount of THC – the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the high sensation – over 0.3% is a crime. For instance, CBD products are legal as long as they contain no more than 0.3% THC.

Kriste's question provided a variety of responses and questions from members and generated interesting and thought-provoking conversation.

Now early in her second term as district attorney, Rotary Club of Mineral Wells appreciates the work and efforts of Kriste, her office and all associated in law enforcement who help keep us, our families, our children and our properties safe from criminals and predators.

Rotary Club of Mineral Wells meets every Wednesday at noon at Southside Church of Christ. Club meetings are for members, prospective members and invited guests. Lunches are catered deliciously by Sadie's Eats.