The 87th Texas Legislature (which took place in 2021) included a number of changes to Texas Criminal Law, which was a bit of “mixed bag.” The previous article listed five of them, but here are some more changes to Texas Criminal Law that came from the 87th Legislature.
#1: Homeless Camping Ban
HB 1925 was signed on June 15 and made camping in an unauthorized public place in Texas a Class C misdemeanor, which can lead to a fine of up to $500. The bill effectively criminalizes homelessness, but it does say that an officer must make a reasonable effort to redirect homeless people to any available resources (such as non-profit agencies) before or at the time he or she issued the citation. If the person is arrested or detained for this type of offense, law enforcement must also make sure that all of his or her property is preserved.
#2: No Police Reality Shows
HB 54 was signed on May 26, and it prohibited law enforcement agencies from authorizing a person to accompany and film a peace officer while he or she is acting in the line of duty for the purpose of producing a reality television show. This is also referred to as “Javier Ambler’s Law” in honor of a 40-year-old black man who was tasered by Williamson County deputies. And it bans law enforcement agencies from contracting with shows (such as “COPS” and “Live PD”). It was Live PD that captured Ambler’s deadly encounter with Williamson deputies, but it was never aired.
#3: Falsely Reporting a Crime or Emergency to Induce a Response
SB 1056 was signed on June 18 and made it a Class A misdemeanor to falsely report a crime or emergency to elicit a faster response from law enforcement or other emergency responders. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $4,000. But the crime can be upgraded to a state jail felony, which is punishable by six months to two years in a state jail.
If you have already been convicted twice for this offense, it will be considered a third-degree felony (which is punishable by 2-10 years in prison). This is especially true if someone has been seriously injured or killed because of the emergency response. The court can also order you to make restitution payments or reimburse any costs associated with the emergency response.
#4: Flying a Drone Over an Airport or Military Facility
SB 149 was signed on June 14, and it made it a Class B misdemeanor to fly a drone over airports or military facilities. This bill expanded the definition of what are considered to be “critical infrastructure facilities” to include public or private airports that are recognized by the FAA, military installations that are owned and operated by the federal or state government, or any other government entity. A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
#5: Reckless Driving Exhibitions and Street Racing
SB 1495 was signed on June 18 in an effort to crack down on reckless and dangerous driving exhibitions and street racing. Lawmakers added the definition of “reckless driving exhibition” to the Texas Penal Code and increased the penalties for people who participate in these types of events.
Obstructing a highway or passageway by participating in a driving exhibition is a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. The crime is upgraded to a state jail felony if any of the following apply:
- The driver has been previously convicted of this type of offense.
- The driver operated a motor vehicle while he or she was intoxicated.
- The driver caused bodily injury to another person.
The bill also made it a Class B misdemeanor to interfere with a peace officer investigation of highway racing or any reckless driving exhibition.
#6: Making a False Statement to Buy a Firearm
SB 162 was signed on May 30 and is also referred to as the “Lie and Try” bill. It is now a state jail felony for someone who is prohibited from possessing a firearm to lie on a background check form and is punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility. The bill was filed in response to the 2019 Walmart Shooting in El Paso, which led to the deaths of 23 people. The Texas Safety Action Report that was written after the incident said that approximately 100,000 people lie on a firearms background check every single year.
If you have been charged with any of these crimes and are looking for a criminal defense attorney in Corpus Christi to help you with your case, be sure to get in touch with Gale Law Group.