Essential Legislative Updates for Peace Officers
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Essential Legislative Updates for Peace Officers

Welcome to essential legal updates for peace officers working patrol. This screencast includes some of the changes to Texas law made by the 86th session of the Texas Legislature, most of them effective September 1, 2019, and it’s designed to highlight some of the offenses and situations most likely to be encountered by a patrol officer or deputy. Several sources were used for this screencast including the ones pictured, but don’t take my word for it. Always consult applicable statutes, case law and your appropriate county, district or municipal attorney for guidance in the application and enforcement of criminal and procedural law. Once again, this screencast includes only highlights and is not all inclusive. The 86th session of the Texas Legislature impacted statutes out of many codes. We’ll start with the Penal Code first. First, the offense of Unlawful Disclosure or Promotion of Intimate Visual Material, more commonly known as the “Revenge Porn” Law was re-worded. This was in response to a court case which is going through the state court system at the time of this screencast which challenges the law on First Amendment grounds. While this case isn’t finalized, there was concern the statute (as it was written prior to September 1, 2019) would be struck down. The re-write is a pre-emptive attempt to ensure the law stays on the books. Next is a new law titled Unlawful Electronic Transmission of Sexually Explicit Material; or, as it’s quickly being referred to, the “Dic Pic” Law. This law makes it an offense to send a picture of either exposed or “covered genitals of a male person that are in a discernibly turgid state” without a request or express consent. There is concern about the way this law was written and it may not withstand Constitutional challenges. Further into the Penal Code, the Assault statute has been revised to make it a felony of the third degree to intentionally, knowingly or recklessly cause bodily injury to a person the actor knows is pregnant at the time of the offense. The Sexual Assault statute was updated to make it a first degree felony when the victim is a family member covered under PC § 25.02, Prohibited Sexual Conduct. This would include persons such as cousins, aunts and uncles. The next law is a new one title Indecent Assault. Think of it as the “Adult version of Indecency with Child (by Contact).” Previously, groping a female’s breast or a groping of a male’s genitals was pretty much only a “C” misdemeanor assault by contact despite it being sexual in nature. This new law now makes this behavior an “A” misdemeanor if, without consent, a person touches the anus, breast or genitals of another whether clothed or not. It also expressly makes it an offense to expose those same body parts of another person. It appears that slapping or touching a male or female’s buttocks remains a misdemeanor “C” assault by contact. Next, a new defense was added to the Criminal Trespass statute. Essentially, landlords can no longer prohibit tenants from possessing firearms or carrying them back and forth from their vehicle to their residence. A revision of PC § 30.06 and 30.07, Trespass by License Holder with Concealed and Openly Carried Handguns occurred which seems to make 30.06 and 30.07 signs signs now sort of meaningless: Even if businesses have these signs posted, a License To Carry holder who walks past the sign must first be told to leave. If they refuse, they are committing a “C” Misdemeanor. If they leave, there’s no criminal offense. A new offense you may have already heard about is Mail Theft or the “Porch Piracy” law. This law is a duplication of the existing theft statutes and can be considered somewhat superfluous in a similar way as the cargo theft statute. The conduct was illegal before and remains illegal; a peace officer or prosecuting attorney now has option of picking between the two statutes. The major consideration is the mail theft statute’s penalty ladder is graded by the number of addresses among the items taken. For instance, one to nine items is a “A” Misdemeanor, 10 to 29 is a State Jail Felony, etc. Some changes were made to the Theft of Service statute as well. Previously, this statute stated intent to avoid payment was presumed if the actor did not return rented property after expiration of the rental agreement within five days after receiving a notice if property was valued at less than $ 2,500 or within three days after receiving a notice if property was valued at more than $2,500. This has been revised to make the three day requirement apply to greater than $2,500 but less than $10,000 nd a new time requirement of two days for items worth more than $10,000. The impact is rental car companies will be able to report vehicles which were not returned more quickly than before. Other changes involving theft of service included removing sending a telegram as a means of demanding return or payment. There were also considerable changes to property covered under rent-to-own contracts. Consult the Penal Code for updates regarding those circumstances. The next new law is Fraudulent Use or Possession of Credit or Debit Card Information and it may sound familiar. The reason is this law is modeled closely after the existing Fraudulent Use or Possession of Identifying Information law. It has several aspects that overlap with the later as well as Credit or Debit Card Abuse. Fraudulent Destruction, Removal or Concealment of Writing was revised this past legislative session. This statute is commonly used for cases of “UPC switching” or “price-sticker switching” in which a shoplifter peels off the price sticker of something inexpensive and attaches it to something expensive and then hopes the cashier won’t notice. As it was written, every instance of this was an “A” Misdemeanor. There is now a “price-sticker switch” ladder for this specific act. To figure out the correct ladder, there’s a little math involved: Take the amount the item actually cost minus the amount the actor paid at the register and that equals the offense level amount. The next new statute, False Caller Identification Information Display makes it illegal to make a phone number other than the one you are calling from appear on someone else’s caller ID. This law is intended for scammers who call unsuspecting people saying they have a warrant out for their arrest or they missed jury duty, and they need to to go to a local retail store and get a pre-paid money card to clear it. There are exceptions to this law for official law enforcement investigations. While the act is now officially illegal, it will still be difficult for law enforcement to determine who the suspect is much less successfully prosecute them. Next, False Report to a Peace Officer was revised to to include a corrections officer, jailer or detention officer as an element of the offense along with peace officers, federal investigators and other law enforcement employees. So, a person who makes a false report to a jailer can now be charged with this offense. The next changes to the Penal Code affected weapons. As you’ve probably already heard, brass knuckles are no longer illegal. Be careful out there. A “club” is no longer a weapon which can be unlawfully carried under PC § 46.02. According to the Penal Code a “Club” means an instrument that is specially designed, made, or adapted for the purpose of inflicting serious bodily injury or death by striking a person with the instrument, and includes but is not limited to a blackjack, nightstick, mace, or tomahawk. Remember, however, clubs are still subject to restrictions under PC § 46.03, Places Weapons Prohibited and PC § 46.06, Unlawful Transfer of Certain Weapons. Churches, synagogues, and mosques were previously areas subject to special restrictions for License To Carry holders under PC § 46.035, Unlawful Carrying of Handgun by License Holder. These places of worship have now been removed from this statute so they now fall under PC § 30.06 and PC § 30.07. In other words, if the place of worship wants to be gun-free, they need to post signs and inform License to Carry holders to depart. We’ll very quickly step from the Penal Code to a portion of the Code of Criminal Procedure affecting the offense of Public Intoxication. Code of Criminal Procedure § 14.031 now allows for a peace officer to release a person in lieu of arrest to a “sobering center” which is licensed by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Check with your jurisdiction to see if there are any “sobering centers” in your area which make this a viable option. You’ve probably also already heard about Hemp. In summary, it is a cousin to marijuana and has a much lower THC concentration. Hemp is heavily regulated. Check with your jurisdiction to see how Hemp and Marijuana statutes are being addressed since it seems to vary widely from county to county across the state. Another change which was made to the Health and Safety Code is the smoking age. In Texas, a person must now be 21 to possess cigarettes, e-cigarettes or tobacco products. Stores are likewise prohibited from selling these items to persons under 21. Moving to the Transportation Code: The Driver Responsibility Program located in Chapter 708 was repealed meaning annual surcharges will no longer be applied and surcharges owed will be wiped off the books on September 1, 2019. The impact is between 600,000 and 1.3 million Texas drivers licenses will be automatically re-instated and 300,000 driver’s licenses will be re-instated with payment of a fee. Next, a person now only needs a “C” driver’s license to operate a moped. Escort flaggers directing traffic for the movement of an oversized load were added to the statute that require drivers to obey police officers and school crossing guards who are directing traffic. Finally, drivers must now also “slow down or move over” for TxDOT contractor vehicles, utility service vehicles using proper flashing lights and stationary garbage or recycling trucks. So it may seem like we’ve talked about quite a bit in these few short minutes, but just remember, we only scratched the surface of legislative changes. If you are a peace officer, make sure you follow up by taking your required continuing education courses to get all the information you need and if you have any questions, contact your agency or your district, county or municipal attorney.


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