The 85th Texas Legislature has passed a number of bills into law, including several which create new criminal offenses. These new offenses cover a wide variety of topics, including theft crimes, electronic or computer-based offenses, traffic or driving offenses, sex crimes, and even criminal matters pertaining to election fraud. These new laws carry a wide range of sentences—while most are misdemeanor offenses, some are considered felony-level crimes and could result in serious penalties. Want to avoid being charged for one of these new crimes? Here is a brief summary of some of the new criminal offenses including the penalties they could carry.
- Electronic Data Tampering, Unlawful Decryption, and Electronic Access Interference: These new laws were passed as part of House Bill 9, known as the “Texas Cybercrime Act.” Under these new laws, three new offenses have been created and defined for legal purposes. The stated purpose of these laws is to target those who distribute and operate “ransomware” or initiate DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks in an attempt to bring systems down.
- Cyberbullying: the state’s laws regarding the crime of “harassment” have been expanded to include covered types of electronic communication, and increasing penalties to a Class A misdemeanor if the victim is under the age of 18.
- Texting While Driving: House Bill 62, otherwise known as the “Alex Brown Memorial Act,” adds a new statewide ban on text messaging while driving. The new law goes into effect on September 1st of this year, and classifies texting while driving as a Class C misdemeanor offense with a maximum fine of $99 for a first-time offender. However, you can’t go to jail; the new law also classifies texting-while-driving as a non-arrestable offense.
- DWI Nondisclosure: Previously, all DWI charges were exempt from nondisclosure laws, rendering them ineligible. Under these new laws, certain rare circumstances can lead to a DWI charge being non-disclosed. Talk to a Sugar Land DWI attorney to find out if your past charge can now be nondisclosed!
- Police Hate Crime Laws: The crimes of unlawful restraint, assault, terroristic threats, and intoxicated assaults now have a new augmenter: if the victim is an officer of peace or a judge. H.B. 2908 substantially increases the penalties for knowingly assaulting or threatening an officer or judge.
- Injury to a Child: These laws have been expanded through H.B. 3019 to increase the ability to crack down on boarding home facilities. The definition now explicitly includes people who have mental illnesses.
- Child Pornography: H.B. 1810 created a new law that bridges the gap between Texas’ own laws on child pornography and the federal laws. This new offense is known as Possession or Promotion of Lewd Visual Material Depicting Child.
- Sexual Coercion: These laws make it easier for law enforcement agencies to crack down on businesses or institutions they believe are harboring sex traffickers.
- Bestiality: S.B. 1232 creates an entirely new sex offense for bestiality that, surprisingly, did not previously exist. This is listed as an offense that would require mandatory annual sex offender registration if convicted.
- Election Fraud: While the new laws make an abundance of changes, arguably the largest one creates two circumstances in which the previously existing crime of “Unlawful Participation in Party Affairs” can now be charged as a felony. H.B. 1735 also created “Engaging in Organized Election Fraud Activity,” which makes it illegal to conspire to commit election fraud.
- Child Custody Transfers: All custody transfers of adopted children must now be regulated in order to prevent possible abuse from one or both parents. If you are divorced and have an adopted child, speak with your family lawyer to learn more.
- Drone operation: H.B. 1424 puts a few limitations on the rapidly-growing hobby of drones and radio-control multi-rotors by outlawing flight near correctional facilities such as jails or prisons, as well as adds specific language to define a “sports venue.” H.B. 1643 also expanded the list of places known as “critical infrastructure facilities” for the purposes of pre-existing laws.
If you find yourself facing charges for any of these new offenses, call a skilled Sugar Land criminal defense attorney as soon as possible! Reach out to Stornello Law Firm, P.C. today by dialing (281) 369-4506 to request a case evaluation.