Texas Criminal Laws That Took Effect in 2015
This past summer, the 84th Texas Legislature put a number of new criminal laws on the books that took effect in September of 2015. In fact, Texas will see more than 1,200 new laws this year that may have an effect on criminal cases throughout the state. Although many of these new laws are quite specific—and thus may not impact a particularly large number of Texas residents—it is important to understand some of the new key measures that could influence criminal defense proceedings.
While we cannot discuss all of the new laws in depth, we want to point out a few that may be especially relevant for residents of Collin County, Texas. These new laws deal with various issues, from tougher penalties for drug offenses to new search and seizure requirements. We should turn to some of the specifics of these new laws so that you can assess how they might impact your case.
New Texas Criminal Laws in Detail
Significant changes have been made to a number of criminal laws in Texas this year that may play significant roles in criminal defense matters. Some of the new laws:
- Search warrant requirement for cellular phones: under the terms of HB 1396, law enforcement officers will have to obtain a search warrant in order to search the cell phone or other wireless communication device of a person who has been arrested. This new language concerning search warrants and cell phones will amend Article 18.02(a) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. In other words, the police must now obtain a search warrant in order to search a smart phone. As with other laws concerning search and seizure, however, there are exceptions that an experienced Plano criminal defense attorney can discuss with you.
- Texas Penal Code 46.03 was amended to create an affirmative defense for the inadvertent bringing of a weapon into the secure area of an airport.
- 32.54 of the Penal Code was amended to increase the penalties for “Fraudulent or Fictitious Military Record.
- The legislature also added a new section to the Obstruction or Retaliation statute which criminalizes the act of posting the home address or telephone number of a public servant with the intent to “harm.” Essentially this act purports to criminalize so called “doxing” or the public posting of identity of police or other public officials. This statute may face a first amendment challenge at some point in the future on the ground that it criminalizes protected speech.
- Rule of Lenity codification: also under HB 1396, Section 311.035 of the Government Code now requires that “a statute or rule that creates or defines a criminal offense or penalty shall be construed in favor of the actor if any part of the statute or rule is ambiguous on its face or as applied to the case.” In other words, if you are arrested for a criminal offense and the statute under which you are charged is ambiguous, the law requires that the statute be construed in your favor. This applies to ambiguities that may exist both in an element of the offense and in the penalty imposed for the offense.
- SB 1317 attempted, among other things, to restore the former Improper Photography or Visual Recording that was previously struck down by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals as a First Amendment violation. It is possible that the revised statute may also be the subject of a First Amendment challenge in the future, but that remains to be seen.
- Under HB 1424, a narrow category of drug offense with prior convictions will face harsher punishments.