Varghese Summersett

Updated: July 22, 2019

There are a number of criminal justice bills that have passed through both the House and the Senate. Some of these have already been signed by the Governor and are already in effect. Most of them have been signed into law and will go into effect on September 1, 2019. A few have yet to be signed by the Governor. 

Here's a look at the changes (and probable changes) to criminal laws in Texas that you need to be aware of: 

2019 Legislative Update - Criminal Edition

Consider this your preview to the 2019 Legislative Update as it pertains to criminal laws in Texas.

House Bill 2048 - Mandatory Special Fines for DWIs

Signed by the Governor, Effective Sept. 1, 2019

higher DWI fines

HB 2048 eliminates the so-called Driver Responsibility Program. It eliminates surcharges These surcharges have been added on to Texas residents for offenses ranging from driving without a valid license to driving while intoxciated.

(As it pertains to DWI, a first time DWI resulted in $3,000 in surcharges due to DPS, a subsequent DWI a surcharge of $4,500, a DWI with a BAC greater than .15 resulted in a $6,000 surcharge). Before you begin the applause for this effort, however, the same bill increases the fines for individuals convicted of DWIs.

In addition to the $2,000 - $10,000 fines already applicable to DWIs, individuals convicted of DWIs are required to pay:

  • $3,000 as an additional fine for the first DWI in a 36-month period;
  • $4,500 for a subsequent DWI in a 36-month period; and
  • $6,000 fine for a DWI BAC >/= 0.15.

Notice these fines are mandatory and that the fines do not provide for a range. In other words, it is a $3,000 fine, not a fine of "up to $3,000."

In order for the fines to be waived, the court must find that the client was indigent.

HB 2048 eliminates surcharges going forward and wipes the slate for any outstanding surcharge. That means any surcharge you presently owe - because of a DWI or otherwise - will be zeroed out on September 1, 2019. Going forward, you will no longer have to pay any surcharges. Additionally, if your license was suspended as a result of not paying surcharges, your license will be reinstated. If you have a pending DWI (that occurred/occurs before September 1, 2019) you will not have to pay a surcharge.

If you get arrested for and are convicted of a DWI on or after September 1, 2019, you will not have to pay a surcharge, but if you are convicted you will be subject to new and equivalent fines as discussed above.

Link: HB 2048

House Bill 3703 - Medical Marijuana

Signed by the Governor, Effective Sept. 1, 2019

medical marijuana in Texas

HB 3703 has made it to the Governor's desk. It would allow Board Certified doctors to prescribe low-THC marijuana for:

1. Terminal cancer.
2. Epilepsy (not just intractable)
3. Seizures
4. Multiple Sclerosis
5. Spasticity (a condition in which certain muscles are continuously contracted)
6. ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord)
7. Autism
8. An incurable neurodegenerative disease

Redefines Low-THC cannabis as any part of the marijuana plant (or derivative or oil of the marijuana plant) that contains not more than .5 percent by weight of THC. 

Link: HB 3703

House Bill 446 - Brass Knuckles, Clubs, and ASP Batons Legalized

?Signed by the Governor, Effective Sept. 1, 2019
legal brass knuckles are coming to texas

HB 446 amends Penal Code 46.02(a) and takes clubs off the list of prohibited weapons.

The definition of "club" remains "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....

H.B. 446 also amends Penal Code 46.05 to remove knuckles from the list of items that are illegal to possess, manufacture, transport, repair, or sell.

This means things like nunchucks, tomahawks, and ASP batons will be legal effective September 1, 2019.

Link: HB 446

House Bill 1325 - Legalization of CBD

Signed - Effective Immediately
legal cbd in texas

HB 1325 has passed both the House and the Senate and is awaiting the Governor's signature. The bill would legalize hemp production, remove hemp from the controlled substances act, and legalize CBD products that contain .3 percent or less THC. This would also restrict prosecutors like the Tarrant County District Attorney from prosecution of CBD (with less than .3 percent THC) cases either as felonies or misdemeanors.

Link HB 1325

House Bill 2789 - Dick Pics By Request Only

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019
dick pics against the law

Get those First Amendment challenges ready. H.B. 2789 has passed both the House and the Senate and is awaiting the Governor's signature. HB 2789 creates a new offense by added Section 21.19 to the Penal Code. This makes it illegal to send a picture or video of a sexual act, an intimate part, or a covered, but erect, penis - that is not at the request or with the express consent of the recipient. The "dick pic" bill creates a Class C offense that is punishable by up to a $500 fine.

Link: HB 2789

House Bill 37 - Mail Theft

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019


Porch pirates beware!

HB 37 Creates a state offense for mail theft with enhancements for stealing mail from elderly or disabled individuals. Generally, stealing mail from fewer than 10 addresses will be a Class A misdemeanor; 10-29 addresses is a state jail felony; and anything over that is a third degree felony. The offenses are enhanced one level if it is shown that identifying information was taken for the purpose of committing fraud.

Link: HB 37

House Bill 902 - Assault on a Pregnant Woman

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019


HB 902 makes assaulting a woman that the accused knows is pregnant a third degree felony instead of a Class A misdemeanor.

Link HB 902 

House Bill 3582 - The (Mostly) Illusory Deferred DWI Bill

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

the illusory DWI bill

House Bill 3582 is a bill supported by MADD for a reason - it creates the illusion of a new and more desirable outcome for first-time DWIs. The reality is there is very little practical effect to this bill other than a shortened period before the person can apply for a nondisclosure - assuming there was not an accident involving another person. A judge must require an interlock device on any DWI that is deferred, even though the blood alcohol concentration is less than .15, unless after substance and alcohol evaluation the judge rules that the use of interlock is not necessary for the safety of the community. (Probation for a first-time DWI with a BAC less than .15 currently does not require interlock as a condition.) Deferred for a DWI is considered a conviction for enhancement purposes for any future DWI allegation. The nondisclosure waiting period is two years, instead of the standard 3-to-5 years for a probated DWI. A nondisclosed DWI can still be used for enhancement purposes.

Link: HB 3582

madd supports deferred DWI

House Bill 51 - Creation of Standard Criminal Forms

Vetoed the Governor

standard criminal forms

HB 51 calls for the creation of standard forms by the Office of Court Administration by September 1, 2020 for:

  1. A plea of guilty in a felony case.
  2. A plea of no contest in a felony case.
  3. A plea of guilty in a misdemeanor case.
  4. A plea of no contest in a misdemeanor case.
  5. Trial court admonishments.
  6. Client's Acknowledgement of trial court admonishments.
  7. Waiver of discovery under 39.14
  8. Evidence disclosure receipt
  9. Plea agreements
  10. Expunction and nondisclosure waivers

The Texas Supreme Court will set a date by which these forms must be adopted by all courts.

Link: HB 51

House Bill 2894 - Healthcare Fraud

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

healthcare fraud

HB 2894 significantly expands the Medicaid Fraud statue and creates Healthcare Fraud as a state criminal cause of action.

Link: HB 2894

House Bill 2625 - Fraudulent Credit and Debit Cards

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

fraudulent cards criminal offense

HB 2625 creates an offense under Penal Code 32.315 for obtaining, possessing, transferring or using a counterfeit credit or debit card with the intent to harm or defraud another person. Possessing less than five items would be a state jail felony, five to nine items would be a third degree felony, 10 to 49 items would be a second degree felony, and 50 or more items would be a first degree felony.

Link: HB 2625

House Bill 1279 - Changing Parole Eligibility Jury Instruction

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

parole eligibility

HB 1279 changes the language to be used in a jury instruction in the punishment phase of a criminal jury trial removing the language relating to good conduct time.

Link: HB 1279

House Bill 8 - Removing Statute of Limitation for Certain Sexual Assaults

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

no SOL in sexual assault cases

HB 8 removes the statute of limitation for sexual assault cases where biological evidence was collected but has yet to be tested for DNA. The bill also creates a "Telehealth" center for Sexual Assault Nurse Exams so get ready for SANE exams that are done remotely, especially if you are in a smaller jurisdiction.

Link: HB 8

House Bill 1899 - Denial of Professional Licenses After Deferred or Conviction

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

denial of professional licenses

If a healthcare professional is found guilty or placed on deferred for an offense requiring registration as a sex offender or if the professional is found guilty of a sexual offense against a patient, the court must inform the Texas Medical Board and DPS.

It also creates an automatic revocation or denial of professional licenses for a variety of medical professionals including dentists, dental hygienists, nurses, occupational therapists, optometrists, physical therapists, pharmacists, doctors, psychologists, social workers, and speech pathologists. It also requires licenses be denied for anyone placed on deferred adjudication or convicted of a felony offense involving the use or threat of force (think about collateral consequence warnings for individuals contemplating pleas for aggravated assault, for instance). Licenses must be denied to individuals required to register as sex offenders or who have been convicted or placed on deferred adjudication for a sexual offense against a patient. 

Link: HB 1899

House Bill 2945 - Service Station Owners: Beware of Skimmers

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

service stations beware of skimmers

House Bill 2945 creates an offenses for disposing of card skimmers, which is aimed at owners of unattended point-of-sale terminals or kiosks. Negligently disposing of a card skimmer is a Class B misdemeanor but disposing of a card skimmer knowing a criminal investigation is under way commits a third degree felony.

Link: HB 2945

House Bill 427 - New Punishments for Switching Price Tags

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

switching price tags

HB 427 changes the punishment range for switching price tags. The offense, formally known as "fraudulent destruction, removal, or concealment of a writing" will now be tied to the difference in the value of the new tag and the original price of the item and will follow the standard theft ladder valuations: under $100 is a Class C misdemeanor, $100-750 is a Class B, $750-2,500 is a Class A, $2,500 - $30,000 is a state jail felony, $30,000 - $150,000 is a third degree felony, $150,000 - 300,000 is a second degree felony and anything over that is a first degree felony.

Link: HB 427

Senate Bill 550 - Allowing Nondisclosure after Judicial Clemency

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

nondisclosure after clemency

SB 550 allows offenses that have been set aside through Judicial Clemency under 42A.701 to non disclosed after a waiting period.

Link: SB 550

Senate Bill 194 - Indecent Assault

This Act takes effect September 1, 2019, except Section 16 takes effect immediately. 

indecent assault texas

SB 194 creates the offense of Indecent Assault. A person commits Indecent Assault if without the other person's consent and with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person, they touch the breast, butt, or genitals of another person; touch another person with their butt, breast, or genitals. This offense also covers contacting another person with seminal fluid, vaginal fluid, saliva, urine, or feces. Indecent Assault is a Class A misdemeanor.

Link: SB 194

Senate Bill 719 - Lauren's Law

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

capital murder 10-15 year old

SB 719, also known as Lauren's Law, amends the capital murder statute to include in the definition of capital murder the murder of a child ages 10-15. Prosecutors may not seek the death penalty for this offense, so anyone convicted only under this subsection shall receive life without parole.

Link: SB 719

Senate Bill 535 - Carrying a Gun to Church

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

bringing a gun to church

SB 535 allows individuals with a license to carry to bring their handgun to church or other place of worship if the church has not posted a 30.06 (concealed) / 30.07(open carry) notice.

Link: SB 535

House Bill 3490 - Expanding Harassment Statute

Bill vetoed by the Governor.

expanded harassment statute

HB 3490 expands the definition of harassment to include posting repeated messages on the internet, including on social media platforms.

Link: HB 3490

Senate Bill 346 - Consolidating Court Costs

Bill signed by Governor. Effective January 1, 2020.

consolidating court costs

SB 346 increases the court costs for felonies from $133 to $185. For Class A and B misdemeanors, the court costs increase from $83 to $147. These changes reflect consolidation of some costs and repeal of others such as a repeal of the fees for the services of county and district clerks.

Link: SB 346

Senate Bill 1802 - Enhanced Punishment for Human Trafficking

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

enhanced punishment range

SB 1802 increases the level of punishment for human trafficking offenses by one level.

Link: SB 1802

House Bill 374 - New Probation Policies

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

new probation policies

HB 374 requires probation departments to adopt policies so that meetings with probationers are set after taking into consideration the probationer's work schedule, treatment, and community service. Probation departments mays allow reporting by videoconference. 

Link: HB 374

Senate Bill 306 - Public Intoxication Release Options

Signed by Governor. Effective Immediately

public intox release options

SB 306 broadens the ability of officers to release individuals who are publicly intoxicated to not only an adult who agrees to take responsibility, or a substance abuse program, but now also a facility that can admit the person to sober up under supervision.

Link: SB 306

Senate Bill 1700 - Release Inmates Before Dark

Signed - Effective September 1, 2019

inmate release before dark

SB 1700 amends the Code of Criminal Procedure to require discharge of inmates by 5 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. under most circumstances. An inmate can agree to be released after 5 pm.

Link: SB1700

Many legislative efforts died on the vine this session. It'll be two years before the legislature meets again and has another go at decriminalization of marijuana and approving medical marijuana for PTSD patients. Other notable legislative defeats include:

Dead - House Bill 2754 would have limited the instances when a police officer could arrest for a fine only or ticketable offense. A campaign of misinformation by CLEAT led to the demise of this bill despite two years of bipartisan effort.

Dead - House Bill 1139 - which would have added standards in evaluating whether a person on death row is intellectually disabled or not in light of the 2002 United States Supreme Court decision prohibiting the execution of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Without legislation to address this issue, individuals on death row must have their cases work through the court system again if they raise an issue of intellectual disability - delaying executions and increasing costs. 

The post New Criminal Laws | 2019 Legislative Update appeared first on Varghese Summersett PLLC | Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorneys.

Varghese Summersett is a premier criminal defense firm based in Fort Worth, Texas. Our attorneys focus exclusively on criminal law and represent clients charged with crimes at both the state and federal level. We handle everything from DWI to capital murder to white collar crime. Collectively, our attorneys bring together more than 100 years of criminal law experience and have tried more than 550 cases before Texas juries. All of our senior attorneys served as former state or federal prosecutors and four are Board Certified in Criminal law, the highest designation an attorney can reach. We are the firm people turn to when the stakes are high and they are facing the biggest problem in their lives. - Contact Varghese at  
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