New Laws in Texas

By John Robinson

With the close of the 82nd Legislative Session, nearly 600 new laws became effective in Texas on September 1, 2011. Here are a few of the new criminal laws.

Many bills were introduced this session, but most didn’t make it into law. The most important new DWI law to become effective September 1 is the ability of the state to enhance a first DWI from a class B misdemeanor to a class A misdemeanor if the court finds there was a blood or breath concentration of .15 or above. Another change is that the new law enhances an intoxicated assault offense to a second-degree felony if the court finds that the victim suffered a traumatic brain injury. DWI-related bills that did not become law include the ability to designate DWI roadblocks and a bill that would have created deferred adjudication in DWI cases.

Two other DWI-related bills regarding occupational driver’s licenses were addressed. One change to the transportation code allows an issuing judge the discretion to order drug testing when granting an occupational driver’s license. If you happen to be stopped for suspicion of DWI, a major warning given to DWI suspects regarding the consequences of providing or refusing to provide a breath/blood sample now admonishes you that the officer may seek a search warrant for blood if you refuse. This warning must be used with all DWI arrests occurring after September 1, 2011.

The legislature made a couple of new synthetic substances illegal to possess, manufacture or deliver. Spice and K2, which gained popularity as a synthetic marijuana, was banned by the legislature. These substances now fall into the same punishment categories as marijuana depending on the amount or weight of the substance. Another synthetic substance that briefly enjoyed legal status was added by the legislature to penalty group 2 of the Controlled Substances Act. “Bath salts” gained publicity the previous 8–12 months as many people discovered the chemicals inside these common household products had hallucinogenic and “speed”-like qualities. Manufacturers will now have to change their compositions in order to sell them in Texas or risk felony charges.

Interestingly, you now have the right to carry a firearm on a watercraft. Evading arrest now adds watercraft to the state jail felony offense that, up until now, only included motor vehicles. The possession of a “tire deflation device” is now a state jail felony. Although illegal in the Austin city limits, Governor Perry vetoed a statewide texting-while-driving ban.

An area of law that is important to anyone who has ever been arrested but not convicted is the right to an expunction, a legal clearing of your arrest and case record. The legislature removed some of the obstacles to securing an expunction by removing the statute of limitations in dismissed cases. The waiting period, if you were never formally charged, was also shortened and even eliminated in cases where the prosecuting attorney certifies that the file is not needed any longer.

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