Disclosing criminal records, prohibition against texting and driving, and amnesty for sexual assault witnesses are among new Texas laws
From sexual assault to disclosing criminal records, many important areas are covered by new Texas laws, most of which take effect Sept. 1, 2017. Veteran Houston criminal defense attorney Neal Davis provides you with details.
Criminal Record Disclosure
Under a new Texas law, a person convicted of one low-level offense can request an “order of nondisclosure” from a court after serving his or her sentence and paying restitution.
Such an order would seal the person’s criminal record from public view. However, the new Texas law would allow law enforcement agencies and some others to view such records when necessary.
“Low-level” offenses covered by the law could include nonviolent Class C misdemeanors, or DWI charges involving a blood alcohol content (BAC) level below 0.14. DWI offenders would fail to qualify for nondisclosure of criminal records if they had a BAC over 0.14 or a previous DWI conviction. They also wouldn’t qualify if they struck a pedestrian or a vehicle with occupants, and if they hadn’t fully paid their court fines.
Continue reading about Texas’ nondisclosure law.
Sexual Assault Laws
Taking effect immediately are new sex crime laws. Passed after notorious incidents at Baylor University, these laws provide amnesty for students who witness and report a sexual assault while they, themselves, are involved in an illegal activity, such as drinking underrage.
Another new Texas law to fight college rapes allows college employees and students to submit anonymous electronic reports of sexual assaults to their institutions.
Attacking Police is a Hate Crime
Another new law makes it a hate crime for a person to attack someone they knew to be a law enforcement officer. The new law also applies to inflicting damage to a law enforcement officer’s property.
This puts attacking police on the same level as committing a crime based on a person’s race, age, color, gender, sexual preference, religion, disability or national origin.
School Bullying Law
To reduce school bullying, a new Texas law makes it a Class A misdemeanor to harass anyone under the age of 18 via social media, text messages, websites or other electronic avenues with the intent of encouraging them to harm themselves or commit suicide. The penalty had been a Class B misdemeanor.
The new law also enables parents to get temporary restraining orders against social media accounts being used to bully or harass their children.
Criminal Background Checks
Taking effect Sept. 1, another new Texas law involves criminal background checks for sports officials registered with the University Interscholastic League. The UIL is an organization which creates rules and procedures for public and private schools’ sports, music and academic contests across the state.
From now on, sports officials must undergo criminal background checks every three years. Previously, such officials only had to submit to one criminal background check. This law goes into effect Sept. 1.
Texting While Driving
Texas finally passed a long overdue law - as 46 states already had done - banning texting while driving. Starting Sept. 1, Texas drivers won’t be allowed to read, write or send electronic messages while operating a motor vehicle unless that vehicle is stopped at the time. Fines are $25 to $99 for a first offense.
However, drivers may use a phone to access a mapping app and to control a vehicle’s music system.
Carrying Weapons in Public
Starting Sept. 1, people in Texas can carry spears, swords and Bowie knives in public. The existing law had prohibited carrying knives over 5.5 inches long.
Even under the new law, it will be illegal to take long-bladed knives into polling places, correctional facilities, race parks, amusement parks, places of worship, healthcare and nursing facilities, sporting events, schools, colleges and bars which make most of their money from alcohol sales.
Persons under 18 years old may not carry long knives anywhere in public unless they are under a parent’s supervision.
Good Samaritan Law
In effect Sept. 1, another new law protects “good Samaritans” from civil liability, and not just criminal charges, if they break into a locked vehicle to rescue a child or an elderly or disabled person. Hot car deaths have taken many lives, and the new law aims to encourage intervention.
However, rescuers must have reason to believe those trapped inside are in imminent harm and first must notify law enforcement by calling 911. They also must use no more force than is necessary.
Starting Sept. 1, new drone laws ban the use of such unmanned aircraft over large sports events, correctional facilities and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities.
An exception is when such drones are authorized by a law enforcement agency or have permission from the operator of a sports venue, as when drones were used to stage Lady Gaga’s halftime show at Houston’s NRG Stadium for Super Bowl 51.
If you have legal questions or need legal help when facing criminal charges, alert experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer Neal Davis today and get a free review of your case.