The laws in Texas are constantly evolving. Every odd numbered year, the Texas legislature meets to consider changes in existing laws, new laws, and occasionally the elimination of old laws. Most of these changes go into legal effect on September 1, of the even numbered year following passage of the change. That important day was yesterday. There were about 600 changes in Texas law going into effect. The best lawyers in Houston are already on top of these changes and are carefully studying how any changes may affect clients.
Only a few 2014 law changes will affect Texas criminal lawyers:
Failure to Stop and Render Aid (FSRA)
The felony offense of leaving the scene of an accident that involves an injured or deceased person has long been a felony. Before Monday, it was a Third degree felony, punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The new law makes the charge of FSRA a Second degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison if a person has died as a result of the crash. This change is motivated to target Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) cases when a suspect flees the scene after a crash.
An important critique of this law is that a suspect is charged with a felony and can go to prison regardless of whether they are at fault in the accident, or if their flight had any role in the injury or death of the victim. The law also applies to a driver who has no knowledge that the accident involved an injury or not. Therefore, if a DWI driver runs a red light and scraping the bumper a innocent driver, runs off the road hitting a tree, and is killed because he was not wearing a seatbelt, the innocent driver can be sentenced to 20 years in prison if they drive away.
Possession of a Prohibited Weapon (Switchblade Knife)
For many years Texas law prohibited the possession of switchblade knives. It is now generally legal to possess a knife that opens automatically or by a spring mechanism. This used to be a misdemeanor weapons offense but is now legal.
Use of a Wireless Communication Device in School Zone or on School Property (While Driving)
Although some city ordinances have forbidden driving while texting or talking on a cell phone in a school zone, it is now the law in Texas. The use of a hands-free device is allowed however. It is also a defense if the suspect can show they were making an emergency call for police, fire, ambulance, etc.
Reports consistently show that texting and talking on a cell while driving causes as many or more accidents as Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). It is still no specific criminal charge at all to kill another person while texting.
There are other changes to the state laws not listed here, these three are some of the most notable ones for Houston criminal lawyers. To the Houston lawyers reading this blog post and learning about these changes for the first time, you’re welcome.
Facts in this post were referenced from this article: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/