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Texas Criminal Law Changes

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2015 Legislative Update

On September 1st, 2015 the Texas State Legislature updated the penal code. There are quite a few changes to Texas Criminal in 2016 and many of them are listed below:

 

Chapter 22. Assaultive Offenses

  • 021 Sexual Assault
    • With regards to sexual assault against “disabled individuals”, a new subsection has been added so that any “person older than 13 who, because of age, reason, or physical or mental disease, defect, or injury, is substantially unable to protect himself from harm or provide food, shelter, or medical care for himself.”
  • 04 Injury to a Child, Elderly Individual, or Disabled Individual
    • This tracks with the last change. However in this instance, the code has been changed to remove “older than 14 years of age”. Now, injuries to a disabled individual under the age of 15 can now be charged by alleging the victim to be a child and/or a disabled individual.
    • There is also a subsection (m) that has been added that creates and affirmative defense for injuring a disabled individual if the actor “did not know and could not reasonably have known” that the victim was disabled.

Chapter 25. Offenses Against the Family

  • 07 Violation of Certain Court Orders of Conditions of Bond in a Family Violence, Sexual Assault or Abuse, Stalking, or Trafficking Case
    • This new amendment consolidates the prosecution of all violation of protective order and violation of bond condition cases under this one offense.
    • There’s also a subsection (a)(6) that criminalizes the attempt to remove or tamper with a GPS required by a protective order or condition of bond.

Chapter 28. Arson, Criminal Mischief, and Other Property Damage or Destruction

  • 03 Criminal Mischief, 28.07 Interference with Railroad Property, and 28.08 Graffiti
    • These have amended the standard value ladder for these property offenses. It is now as follows:
Class C Misdemeanor Less than $100
Class B Misdemeanor $100 or more but less than $750
Class A Misdemeanor $750 or more but less than $2,500
State Jail Felony $2,500 or more but less than $30,000
Third-Degree Felony $30,000 or more but less than $150,000
Second-Degree Felony $150,000 or more but less than $300,000
First-Degree Felony $300,000 or more

 

 

Chapter 30. Burglary and Criminal Trespass

  • 05 Criminal Trespass
    • The only change here is that the concealed handgun license defense has been expanded to include a licensed person openly carrying the handgun in a shoulder or belt holster.
  • 06 Trespass by License Holder with a Concealed Handgun
    • This change is to specify that this is specifically for Concealed Handgun carriers.
    • The default punishment range in subsection (d) for a general violation of this offense is lowered from a Class A to a Class C misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $200. However, the Class A misdemeanor still applies to a license holder who, after entering the property, is personally given oral notice and still fails to depart.
  • 07 Trespass by License Holder with an Openly Carried Handgun
    • This new offense applies rules from the previous section to those who are openly carrying handguns for which they are licensed.

Chapter 31. Theft

  • 03 Theft
    • The new statute amends subsection (e) to impose a new value ladder on punishments. It is the same ladder as before under 28.03.
  • 04 Theft of Service
    • The change for this section is the same as above.
  • 16 Organized Retail Theft
    • The changes to this section are the same as above. It should also be noted that it now makes the penalties to this offense the same as in section 31.03. This makes less of an incentive to charge a person with this instead of the latter because there are no longer any enhancing factors.

Chapter 33. Computer Crimes

  • 02 Breach of Computer Security
    • This amends subsection (b-1) to add a new subdivision that attempts to address hackers who breach government of business computer systems in violation of user agreements, take information or data for reasons other than to cause harm to the owner. The value ladder for this also changes to be the same as under 28.03.
  • 021 Online Solicitation of a Minor
    • This has been amended to try to bring back the “sexually explicit communication” or “dirty talk” provision. It has also limited the definition of “minor” to be someone who is actually younger than 17 years of age.
    • It also amends subsection (b) to replace the “intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person” with a requirement that the actor intends to commit:
      • Continuous sexual abuse of a young child/children,
      • Indecency with a child,
      • Sexual assault,
      • Aggravated sexual assault,
      • Prohibited sexual conduct,
      • Compelling prostitution,
      • Sexual performance by a child,
      • Possession or promotion of child pornography, or
      • Trafficking of persons involving certain sexual conduct
    • It amends subsection (d) to eliminate the language declaring it is not a defense that the actor:
      • Did not intend for a meeting with the minor to occur, or
      • Was engaged in a fantasy at the time of the commission of the offense

Chapter 34. Money Laundering

  • 02 Money Laundering
    • The value ladder for this has been modified to match that which was mentioned above in 28.03.

Chapter 35. Insurance Fraud

  • 02 Insurance Fraud
    • The value ladder for this has been modified to match that which was mentioned above in 28.03.
  • 025 Value of Claim
    • Subsection (b) has been amended to make the default loss a value of $750 or more but less than $2,500, which remains a Class A misdemeanor under the new standard value ladder (see 28.03).

Chapter 36. Bribery and Corrupt Influence

  • 06 Obstruction or Retaliation
    • This has been amended to address instances of “doxing”, which refers to the practice by computer hackers of revealing a target subject’s personally identifiable information, such as home address, workplace information, and credit card numbers, without consent.
    • There is a new subsection (a-1) that creates an offense for posting on the Internet the residence address or telephone number of a public servant or a member of a public servant’s family or household with the intent to cause or threaten harm.
    • It also provides a pseudo-presumption under the new subsection (d) that the actor intended to cause or threaten harm if the actor receives a written demand to remove (or not initially post) that type of identifying information but fails to comply with the request.
    • This also is increased from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony if the “doxing” results in bodily injury to a public servant or a member of the public servant’s family or household.

Chapter 37. Perjury and Other Falsification

  • 10 Tampering with Governmental Record
    • It has been amended the enhancement provisions of subsection (c)(2) to make this offense a third-degree felony if the governmental record was a search warrant issued by a magistrate.

Chapter 38. Obstructing Governmental Operation

  • 15 Interference with Public Duties
    • Like the other mentioned in 36.06, this has also been added to address the problem of “doxing” against peace officers. There are two new subsections that have been added:
      • (d-1) creates a presumption that an actor interferes with a peace officer by intentionally disseminating the home address, home telephone number, emergency contact information, social security number, or other personal information protected under the Public Information Act belonging to an officer or a family member of that officer; but
      • (d-2) it exempts from that presumption any information disseminated by the mainstream media.

Chapter 39. Abuse of Office

  • 04 Violations of the Civil Rights of Person in Custody; Improper Sexual Activity with Person in Custody
    • There were three bills that made changes to this offense. The first amends the definition of “correctional facility” to include facilities that house immigration detainees, thereby expanding this offense to include offenses against those victims.
    • The second amends various references in this section to the old Texas Youth Commission, updating them to include victims in “the Texas Juvenile Justice Department” or those “placed in a juvenile facility”.
    • The third adds “juvenile facility” throughout this section and also provides a definition for it in the new subsection (e)(2-a). It addresses a perceived loophole in this offense that might exclude conduct committed by officials, employees, and other persons working or volunteering at one of those facilities.
  • 06 Misuse of Official Information
    • A bill amended subsection (a)(3) to clarify that the prohibition against coercing another into suppressing or failing to report information to a law enforcement agency applies to school administrators.

Chapter 43. Public Indecency

Subchapter A. Prostitution

  • 02 Prostitution
    • This statute has changed to allow for more options for victims of human trafficking working as prostitutes and moves for harsher consequences for those who pay for those services.
    • Subsection (a) – now known as the Jane offense – requires the offer/agreement/engagement/solicitation of sexual conduct to be “in return for receipt of a fee”.
    • Subsection (b) – the John offense – requires the offer/agreement/engagement/solicitation of sexual conduct to be “based on the payment of a fee by the actor or another person on behalf of the actor”.
    • The original subsection (b) has been changed to (b-1) and clarifies that an offense occurs regardless of whether the fee at issue is actually paid or received.
    • The new subsection (c-1) applies the current punishment scheme to “Johns” (Class B- second-degree felony, depending on various factors); and
    • Subsection (d)’s defense for victims of human trafficking is limited to the Jane offense.
    • There is also another bill that amends subsection (c)(3)’s second-degree punishment range to add situations in which the person solicited is “represented to the actor” as being younger than 18 years old or “believed by the actor” to be younger than 18.

Subchapter B. Obscenity

  • 26 Possession or Promotion of Child Pornography
    • This has amended subsection (d) to increase the punishment range for illegally possessing child pornography from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony if the person has one prior conviction for that same offense, and from a third-degree to a first-degree felony if the person has two or more prior convictions for that same offense.
    • Subsection (g) has also been amended to increase the penalty for illegally promoting child pornography from a second-degree to a first-degree felony if the person has a previous conviction for that same offense.

Chapter 46. Weapons

  • 02 Unlawful Carrying Weapons
    • Effective January 1st, 2016, the “open carry” bill amends subsection (a-1)(1) to permit the carrying of a handgun in plain view in a motor vehicle/watercraft if the person has a handgun license and is carrying the handgun in a shoulder or belt holster. Outside of a holster, the plain view offense still applies. However, it does not amend subsection (a) that states that someone can still openly carry a handgun without using a shoulder or belt holster on his own premises or inside of or directly en route to his own vehicle or watercraft.
  • 03 Places Weapons Prohibited
    • The first amendment to this section are the subsections (e-1) and (e-2). They address the problem of someone unwittingly carrying a handgun through a secure checkpoint at an airport. (e-1) creates a new defense for a license holder with a concealed (but not openly carried) handgun who exits the checkpoint area immediately upon notification that the actor possessed the handgun. Additionally, (e-2) prohibits a peace officer from arresting the actor unless the actor fails to leave the checkpoint area after being given the opportunity to do so.
    • Effective January 1st, 2016, the subsection (f) has been amended to delete “concealed” from its reference to what was a “CHL” but is now just an “HL”.
    • Effective August 1st, 2016, the “campus carry” bill, amends subsection (a)(1) to permit a person with a handgun license to have a concealed handgun:
      • On the premises (“building or portion of a building”) of a college or university;
      • On any grounds or building on which a college- or university-sponsored activity is being conducted; or
      • In a passenger transportation vehicle of that college or university.
    • It should be noted that this privilege is limited to concealed handguns; open carry is still prohibited on college campuses.
  • 035 Unlawful Carrying of Handgun by License Holder
    • Subsection (a) (the intentional display of a handgun in public in plain view of another) is amended (effective January 1st) to add an exception if the visible handgun was carried in a shoulder or belt holster.
    • The new subsection (a-1) re-creates the offense in subsection (a) for a license holder who intentionally displays a handgun in plain view of another while on a college or university campus, where open carry is still prohibited.
    • The new subsection (a-2) creates an offense for a license holder who carries a handgun anywhere on the campus of a private or independent college or university that has prohibited concealed carry.
    • The new subsection (a-3) is added to create an offense for a license holder who carries a concealed handgun on a portion of a campus of any college or university that has prohibited such activity.
    • Subsection (b) (prohibited places) is amended to clarify that a license holder cannot carry a handgun at any place listed in this subsection (bars, hospitals, amusement parks, etc.), whether openly or concealed.
    • Subsection (c) (meeting of a governmental entity) is amended by two bills in different ways. The first amends this section to limit it to the “room or rooms” where a governmental meeting is held, but it also adds a provision that the meeting must be alleged and proved at trial for a conviction. The change also now makes it legal to carry a gun to a meeting of a governmental entity that is not subject to the Open Meetings Act (if not otherwise prohibited).
    • The second change to subsection (c) prohibits the open carry of a handgun in a shoulder or belt holster at one of these meetings.
    • Subsection (d) (carrying while intoxicated) is amended to apply it to open or concealed carry.
    • Subsection (h) (use of force defense) is amended to make the defense applicable to an offense under new subsection (a-1).
  • 05 Prohibited Weapons
    • A bill has been passed that repeals the federal registration defense in subsection (c), moves that registration defense language into what is now renumbered as subsection (a-1), and makes it more directly applicable to explosive weapons, machine guns, short-barreled firearms, and firearm silencers in the form of an element of the offense.
  • 15 Nonapplicability
    • This section has been amended in several places to remove the references to “concealed” handgun licenses now that open carry is permitted under those licenses.