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Varghese Summersett

Two North Texas men are among those who have been charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with last year’s assault on the U.S. Capitol. Until recently, many people had never even heard of sedition charges. In this article, we will explain the offense and how the government is using this obscure law to prosecute a far-right militia group for their alleged involvement in the invasion of the U.S. Capitol.

What is seditious conspiracy?

Seditious conspiracy is a federal offense defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2384. It occurs when two or more people conspire to “overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force” the U.S. government, or to levy war against it, or to oppose by force and try to prevent, hinder or delay the execution of any law.

What is the punishment for seditious conspiracy?

Seditious conspiracy is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison.

How many people have been charged with seditious conspiracy in the breach of the U.S. Capitol?

Eleven members of the so-called “Oath Keepers” have been charged with seditious conspiracy related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Two of the men are from North Texas, including the leader of the group who lives in Granbury. The rest of the defendants are from various parts of the country, including Virginia, Florida, Georgia, and Ohio. The Oath Keepers have been described by local Texas media as a “revolution-minded, conspiracy-bent militia group.

What are the allegations?

The federal indictment alleges that, following the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election, the Oath Keepers began conspiring how to overturn the election results and prepared for a siege by purchasing weapons and setting up battle plans.The FBI obtained encrypted communications among the Oath Keepers, including a message on Nov. 5 by the leader that read: “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, spirit.” He also allegedly wrote in one text “to scare the s—out of” Congress. 

On Jan. 6, the indictment alleges, they entered the Capitol building with the large crowds of rioters who stormed past police barriers, smashed windows and rammed doors, injuring dozens of officers and sending lawmakers scrambling.

The indictment against the leader alleges the Oath Keepers formed two teams, or “stacks,” that entered the Capitol. The first stack split up inside the building to go after the House and Senate. The second stack confronted officers inside the Capitol Rotunda, the indictment said. Outside Washington, the indictment alleges, the Oath Keepers had stationed two “quick reaction forces” that had guns “in support of their plot to stop the lawful transfer of power.” Interestingly, the leader did not enter the Capitol that day but is accused of putting the violent plan into motion.

How often is seditious conspiracy charged? 

Seditious conspiracy charges are rare and hard to prove. According to news reports, the last time prosecutors brought sedition charges was in 2010 against members of the “Hutaree” – a small far-right Christian militia group in Michigan. The group was allegedly plotting to incite an uprising against the government. However, a judge dismissed the charges after finding there was insufficient evidence of a conspiracy.

What happens next in the case?

On March 2, one of the 11 defendants pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, admitting he tried to keep President Biden from taking office and agreed to cooperate with the government. That means he will likely testify against his co-defendants, including the leader of the group who is expected to go on trial later this year. No doubt, the country will be watching.

Facing sedition charges? Contact us.

If you have been accused of sedition in North Texas or are facing charges stemming from the Capitol riot, it’s imperative that you contact an experienced federal defense attorney. Rest assured, the government is going to bring all of their resources to bear on this case. Our team has extensive experience defending federal criminal charges. Call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation.

Varghese Summersett

Over the past couple of years, a once little-known cannabinoid called delta-8 THC has surged in popularity due to its similarities to marijuana — especially in states where marijuana (containing delta-9 THC over .3%) is illegal, like Texas. Walk into any smoke shop or CBD retailer in Texas and chances are you will find this product lining the shelves in forms such as gummies, vape cartridges, or tinctures. While many Texans are praising what some call “marijuana lite” or “diet weed,” the legality of delta-8 cannabinoids is in a gray area, and the production of it is largely unregulated. In this article, the attorneys at Varghese Summersett walk you through what exactly delta-8 is, the legality of delta-8 consumption, and the future of delta-8 in Texas.

What is Delta-8 THC?

Delta-8 is a cannabinoid derived from hemp that gives similar effects to marijuana such as euphoria and relaxation. While delta-8 is not exactly the same as marijuana, the two cannabinoids are very similar in chemical structure. Marijuana is a THC compound named Delta-9 because of the double bond on the ninth carbon atom, as opposed to the eighth carbon atom in delta-8. The placement of this bond still gives users a “high,” however, it is much less potent than regular delta-9 weed. It is important to note that delta-8 THC is not a substitute for CBD, a non-intoxicating substance also derived from the marijuana plant, as delta-8 still has intoxicating effects.

Why is Delta-8 so Popular?

Delta-8 cannabinoids have become popular because it is viewed as a legal way to attain the high that marijuana gives. While the legality of delta-8 will be discussed later, a legal oversight has allowed delta-8 to be produced, sold, and used “legally” in dozens of states, including Texas. With the strict laws prohibiting the usage of cannabis in many states like Texas, delta-8 is viewed as a legal alternative to weed. Many stores in Texas are selling delta-8 THC without any legal or governmental regulation, allowing consumers to get high from edible gummies, vapor pens, and oil tinctures.

Is Delta-8 THC Legal in Texas?

The short answer to this question is yes, for now, although finish this article to find out how you can be arrested for and prosecuted for delta-8 THC in Texas. While there are no laws expressly prohibiting the usage of delta-8 cannabinoids, there are also no laws outright legalizing its usage. This leaves delta-8 in a legal grey area which is currently being duked out in court. In October 2021, The Texas Department of Health and Human Services updated its website to clarify for the public that delta-8 was a Schedule 1 substance and, therefore, illegal. CBD and hemp retailers challenged it in court, saying this contradicted what they thought was now legal under federal and state hemp laws. Lawsuits were filed attempting to block DSHS from criminalizing delta-8, and retailers got a temporary injunction on the state’s ban, which so far has been upheld by an appeals court. DSHS asked the Texas Supreme Court to step in and reinstate a ban on the products, but the high court refused the request to hear the case. A final hearing  is set for January 2022. But for now, delta-8 is legal in Texas.

How Did the 2018 Farm Bill Create this Confusion and Controversy?

Stores across Texas began selling delta-8 THC after the passage of the 2018 Federal Farm Bill, as well as House Bill 1325 in 2019, which legalized the growing of hemp that contains less than .3 percent THC. Delta 8 falls into this category. The Department of Health and Human Services (DSHS), however, later announced, or clarified, that delta-8 was classified as a scheduled 1 controlled substance, a category reserved for drugs that have no accepted medical use, such as heroin. That’s why it’s in legal limbo at the moment.

Will Delta-8 Continue to be Legal in Texas?

That remains to be seen. As mentioned, it’s currently being debated in court and it was also a hot topic in the last legislative session. There were two bills in the Texas House  – HB 2593 and HB 3948, which would have criminalized delta-8. Both bills died. So, while Delta-8 may be in a legal purgatory now, it seems that some lawmakers will continue to try and push to treat Delta-8 as normal cannabis. To be sure, delta 8 consumers, retailers, and manufactures will push back.

Can you be Arrested for Possession of Delta-8 THC?

While not explicitly illegal, delta-8 cannabis is indistinguishable from regular delta-9 cannabis unless examined in a laboratory, so you could potentially still be arrested for delta-8 cannabis if officers suspect it is illegal delta-9 marijuana. However, there appears to be no push to prosecute anyone for selling it. In fact, according to the Texas Tribune, the Texas Department of Public Safety has yet to make an arrest.

Can you be prosecuted for Delta-8 THC consumption?

Under certain circumstances, you can be arrested and prosecuted for Delta-8 THC consumption. First, if you are on bond, the judge will likely have issued an order that says you cannot use or possess any cannabinoids. “Any” means exactly that. Courts routinely impose bond conditions that are more stringent than existing laws.

Second, if you are on probation, the court will likely impose a condition that says you cannot possess or consume any cannabinoids. In this case, too, you can be arrested, revoked, and sentenced for what would otherwise be a legal substance. The same can happen if you have a parole condition that prohibits you from using cannabinoids.

Will I Fail a Drug Test Using Delta-8?

Yes, you can fail a drug test if you have only used delta-8 cannabis, as drug tests are unable to distinguish the differences between delta-8 and 9 cannabinoids. As explained above, if you are on bond or probation (the two times you are most likely to be providing a drug test) it likely won’t matter which cannabinoid was in your system.

Arrested for Marijuana or Delta-8 Cannabis? Contact Us.

If you’ve been arrested for possession of marijuana in Tarrant County, it is crucial to contact an experienced marijuana lawyer for legal help as soon as possible. Our dedicated team of criminal defense attorneys has decades of experience and a track record of proven results. Contact us today at 817-203-2220 for a free consultation.

Varghese Summersett

COVID is spreading like wildfire – and so are fake covid vaccine cards and related scams. Each week, law enforcement agencies across the state and country put out new warnings about the latest COVID scams. The fraudulent activity ranges from fake tests, to phony vaccination cards, to sham testing sites. Depending on the facts and circumstances, the scams can be prosecuted as a state or federal crime and the punishment could be severe. Here’s a look at the crimes and consequences stemming from COVID scams in Texas and across the country. 

What are some common COVID scams?

Some of the most common COVID scams include:

  • selling or buying fake vaccination cards online;
  • setting up fake testing sites and administering bogus COVID tests;
  • selling fake rapid COVID tests online. 

In this article, we are going to take a look at three common COVID scams and the potential consequences of each.

Fake Vaccination Cards

The list of venues, businesses, schools, and government agencies requiring proof of COVID vaccine is growing – and so is vaccination card fraud. Rather than sit out or be turned away for being unvaccinated, some people are turning to the Internet or social media to buy fake vaccination cards. What they might not realize is that they are committing a federal crime. Buying, making, or selling phony vaccination cards can land you in big trouble with the law.

What charges are possible for buying or selling fake vaccine records?

The FBI has issued several warnings about Texans buying and selling fake vaccines. People who make, sell or possess a fake vaccination card can face federal charges including: 

  • Misuse of a Government Seal: Making, selling or possessing a counterfeit vaccination card, which uses the federal seal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is punishable by up to five years in federal prison. 
  • Federal Mail or Wire Fraud: Using the mail or a computer to commit a crime  – such as mailing a fake card or using Venmo to pay for a phony card – is punishable by up to 20 years federal prison. 

Fake Testing Sites

As the omicron variant continues to surge, people are scrambling to find testing sites. Scammers are capitalizing on the demand and setting up nefarious pop-up sites offering quick, easy and fast results. The so-called “health care workers” administer a bogus test and walk away with customers’ personal information, including driver’s license number, social security number, credit card number, and medical history.  Armed with this information, they can then commit identity theft.

What constitutes identity theft in Texas?

In Texas, a person commits identity theft if he or she obtains, uses, possesses or transfers personal information of another without consent with the intent to harm or defraud.

What is the punishment for identity theft in Texas?

The severity of the charge and potential punishment depends on the number of identifying items found in the defendant’s possession. For example, if a defendant is in possession of: 

  • 1 to 4 identifying items, they face a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in a state jail facility.
  • 5 to 9 identifying items, they face a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
  • 10 to 49 identifying items, they face a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. 
  • 50 or more identifying items, they face a first-degree felony. 

People convicted of identity theft could also face a maximum $10,000. Further, the punishment can be increased if the victim is over 65 years old.

Bogus Rapid COVID Tests

These days, trying to find an at-home rapid COVID test seems like a futile effort. Signs are posted outside pharmacies saying they are out. Store shelves that were once stocked are now empty. It’s no surprise that many people are opting to buy at-home or over-the-counter test kits online. Problem is, many of them are counterfeit – or the websites offering them are fake.  Over the past few weeks, government agencies have been warning consumers about the influx of unauthorized or counterfeit rapid COVID tests and are asking people to report scam sellers and bogus tests to the Federal Trade Commission.

What charges can people face for selling a fake product on a website?

Counterfeiting, as well as wire and mail fraud, are possible charges, depending on specific facts and circumstances. Identity theft is also a possibility if the website was used to gather personal information and use it for nefarious purposes. 

Examples of Recent Arrests for COVID Scams

  • In December 2021, a 23-year-old Maryland man was charged with federal mail fraud and obstruction of justice for allegedly selling fake vaccination cards on social media and then using UPS to mail them to customers. He faces a maximum 20 year sentence on each charge.
  • In August 2021, an Air National Guard soldier was charged in federal court in Fort Worth for selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards on social media. The soldier shared videos of himself making and mailing the fake vaccination cards. He also allegedly sold one to an undercover agent for $150. He was charged with illegal possession of government property.
  • In January 2021, a Seattle man who claimed to be a biotech expert, was arrested after selling his own COVID-19 vaccine. He was federally charged with introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce after he advertised his “vaccine” for between $400 and $1000.

Facing charges stemming from a COVID scam? Contact Us.

If you or a loved one has been arrested stemming from a COVID scam, it’s imperative to contact an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible. Because this is such a high-profile issue, the government is taking these cases very seriously and may try and make an example out of you. Our team has extensive experience defending state and federal criminal cases and has a proven track record of exceptional results. All of our senior attorneys are former prosecutors and four are Board Certified in criminal law, the highest designation an attorney can reach. Call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation with a member of our attorney and find out how we can help you. 

 

Varghese Summersett

Over the past couple of years, a once little-known cannabinoid called delta-8 THC has surged in popularity due to its similarities to marijuana — especially in states where marijuana (containing delta-9 THC over .3%) is illegal, like Texas. Walk into any smoke shop or CBD retailer in Texas and chances are you will find this product lining the shelves in forms such as gummies, vape cartridges, or tinctures.

While many Texans are praising what some call “marijuana lite” or “diet weed,” the legality of delta-8 cannabinoids is in a gray area, and the production of it is largely unregulated. In this article, the attorneys at Varghese Summersett walk you through what exactly delta-8 is, the legality of delta-8 consumption, and the future of delta-8 in Texas.

What is Delta-8 THC?

Delta-8 is a cannabinoid derived from hemp that gives similar effects to marijuana such as euphoria and relaxation. While delta-8 is not exactly the same as marijuana, the two cannabinoids are very similar in chemical structure. Marijuana is a THC compound named Delta-9 because of the double bond on the ninth carbon atom, as opposed to the eighth carbon atom in delta-8. The placement of this bond still gives users a “high,” however, it is much less potent than regular delta-9 weed. It is important to note that delta-8 THC is not a substitute for CBD, a non-intoxicating substance also derived from the marijuana plant, as delta-8 still has intoxicating effects.

Why is Delta-8 so Popular?

Delta-8 cannabinoids have become popular because it is viewed as a legal way to attain the high that marijuana gives. While the legality of delta-8 will be discussed later, a legal oversight has allowed delta-8 to be produced, sold, and used “legally” in dozens of states, including Texas. With the strict laws prohibiting the usage of cannabis in many states like Texas, delta-8 is viewed as a legal alternative to weed. Many stores in Texas are selling delta-8 THC without any legal or governmental regulation, allowing consumers to get high from edible gummies, vapor pens, and oil tinctures.

Is Delta-8 THC Legal in Texas?

The short answer to this question is yes, for now, although finish this article to find out how you can be arrested for and prosecuted for delta-8 THC in Texas. While there are no laws expressly prohibiting the usage of delta-8 cannabinoids, there are also no laws outright legalizing its usage. This leaves delta-8 in a legal grey area which is currently being duked out in court. In October 2021, The Texas Department of Health and Human Services updated its website to clarify for the public that delta-8 was a Schedule 1 substance and, therefore, illegal. CBD and hemp retailers challenged it in court, saying this contradicted what they thought was now legal under federal and state hemp laws. Lawsuits were filed attempting to block DSHS from criminalizing delta-8, and retailers got a temporary injunction on the state’s ban, which so far has been upheld by an appeals court. DSHS asked the Texas Supreme Court to step in and reinstate a ban on the products, but the high court refused the request to hear the case. A final hearing was set for January 2022, but it was cancelled and never took place. So for now, delta-8 is legal in Texas.

How Did the 2018 Farm Bill Create this Confusion and Controversy?

Stores across Texas began selling delta-8 THC after the passage of the 2018 Federal Farm Bill, as well as House Bill 1325 in 2019, which legalized the growing of hemp that contains less than .3 percent THC. Delta 8 falls into this category. The Department of Health and Human Services (DSHS), however, later announced, or clarified, that delta-8 was classified as a scheduled 1 controlled substance, a category reserved for drugs that have no accepted medical use, such as heroin. That’s why it’s in legal limbo at the moment.

Will Delta-8 Continue to be Legal in Texas?

That remains to be seen. As mentioned, it’s currently being debated in court and it was also a hot topic in the last legislative session. There were two bills in the Texas House  – HB 2593 and HB 3948, which would have criminalized delta-8. Both bills died. So, while Delta-8 may be in a legal purgatory now, it seems that some lawmakers will continue to try and push to treat Delta-8 as normal cannabis. To be sure, delta 8 consumers, retailers, and manufactures will push back.

Can you be Arrested for Possession of Delta-8 THC?

While not explicitly illegal, delta-8 cannabis is indistinguishable from regular delta-9 cannabis unless examined in a laboratory, so you could potentially still be arrested for delta-8 cannabis if officers suspect it is illegal delta-9 marijuana. However, there appears to be no push to prosecute anyone for selling it. In fact, according to the Texas Tribune, the Texas Department of Public Safety has yet to make an arrest.

Can you be prosecuted for Delta-8 THC consumption?

Under certain circumstances, you can be arrested and prosecuted for Delta-8 THC consumption. First, if you are on bond, the judge will likely have issued an order that says you cannot use or possess any cannabinoids. “Any” means exactly that. Courts routinely impose bond conditions that are more stringent than existing laws.

Second, if you are on probation, the court will likely impose a condition that says you cannot possess or consume any cannabinoids. In this case, too, you can be arrested, revoked, and sentenced for what would otherwise be a legal substance. The same can happen if you have a parole condition that prohibits you from using cannabinoids.

Will I Fail a Drug Test Using Delta-8?

Yes, you can fail a drug test if you have only used delta-8 cannabis, as drug tests are unable to distinguish the differences between delta-8 and 9 cannabinoids. As explained above, if you are on bond or probation (the two times you are most likely to be providing a drug test) it likely won’t matter which cannabinoid was in your system.

Arrested for Marijuana or Delta-8 Cannabis? Contact Us.

If you’ve been arrested for possession of marijuana in Tarrant County, it is crucial to contact an experienced marijuana lawyer for legal help as soon as possible. Our dedicated team of criminal defense attorneys has decades of experience and a track record of proven results. Contact us today at 817-203-2220 for a free consultation.

Varghese Summersett

Police officers don’t have carte blanche to enter a home without a warrant when pursing a fleeing suspect for a misdemeanor offense, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

In an unanimous ruling in Lange v. California, the high court declined to grant police unlimited authority to enter homes without a warrant when they’re in “hot pursuit” of someone for a misdemeanor crime.

Police are generally required to have a warrant to enter someone’s home under the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on “unreasonable searches.” However, courts have allowed exceptions when an officer is in pursuit of a suspect believed to have committed a felony.

The flight of a suspect for a misdemeanor crime does not always justify a warrantless entry exception, the justices ruled.

“An officer must consider all the circumstance in a pursuit case to determine whether there is a law enforcement emergency,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for a majority of the court. “On many occasions, the officer will have good reason to enter – to prevent imminent harms of violence, destruction of evidence or escape from the home. But when the officer has time to get a warrant, he must do so – even though the misdemeanant fled. “

The Case Before the High Court: Lange v. California

The court’s ruling stems from the case of Lange v. California, a California man convicted of driving under the influence. On October 7, 2016, Arthur Lange drove by a California highway patrol officer while playing loud music and honking his horn. The officer believed that was a noise violations and started following Lange. The officer  attempted to pull over Lange, who drove a short distance to his home and entered his garage. The officer followed Lange into his garage, where he questioned him and, after observing signs of intoxication, gave him filed sobriety tests. A later blood test showed Lange’s blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit.

Lange was arrested and charged with misdemeanor DUI. Lange moved to suppress the evidence obtained after the officer entered his garage, arguing that the warrantless entry violated the Fourth Amendment. The court found that, because the officer was in “hot pursuit” of suspect whom he had probable case to arrest for a law violation, the officer’s warrantless entry into Lange’s driveway and garage were lawful.

The court denied Lange’s motion and he was ultimately convicted. The court of appeals affirmed Mr. Lange’s conviction

The case was ultimately appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Lange contended that the officer had no right to enter his home without a warrant and the DUI evidence was obtained illegally.

The Question in Lange’s Case

Since 1976, the Supreme Court has held that police may conduct a warrantless search when pursing a felon. The question in Lange’s case was whether police could do the same when pursuing someone of a minor, or misdemeanor, offense.

The justices ruled they cannot and sent the case back to the lower courts for another look in light of their ruling.

“Pursuit of a misdemeanant does not trigger a categorical rule allowing a warrantless home entry,” Justice Kagan wrote.

While the court’s ruling was unanimous, several justices wrote concurring opinions with separate legal reasoning.

It was the first time justices reviewed the scope of the “hot pursuit” doctrine when it comes to minor offense. The case is significant to law enforcement and privacy groups alike and the takeaway is this: Police must evaluate on a case-by-case basis the need for a warrant in misdemeanor case to determine if there is an emergency.

Varghese Summersett

A long and controversial legislative session resulted in a mixed bag of new criminal laws in Texas. Here is a roundup of the new criminal laws and the biggest changes to existing laws stemming from the 87th legislative session.

1. Constitutional Carry

HB 1927: Signed June 16

Starting September 1, Texans over age 21 will be able to carry a handgun in public without license or training. House Bill 1927 eliminated the requirement for Texans to obtain a license to carry as long as they are not prohibited from possessing a gun by state or federal law. This legislation also makes a number of other changes and additions to the Penal Code concerning firearms, including:

  • Making it a crime to carry a firearm while intoxicated. This offense is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.
  • Making it a crime for a gang member to carry a firearm in a vehicle. This offense is a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.
  • Allowing a peace officer to disarm a citizen at any time if he or she believes it is necessary to protect the person, the officer or another individual. The officer, however, must return the person’s handgun before leaving the scene if the officer determines the person was not a threat and didn’t commit a violation.
  • Allows for the expungement of records for those who have been previously convicted of unlawfully carrying a weapon before September 1, 2021.

Constitutional Carry in Texas 2021

2. Obstructing Emergency Vehicles

HB 9: Signed June 1

House Bill 9 makes it a state jail felony to knowingly block an emergency vehicle with its lights and sirens on or to obstruct access to a hospital or health care facility. A state jail felony is punishable by six months to two years behind bars and a maximum $10,000 fine. Individuals convicted of this offense are required to spend at least 10 days in jail, even if they are sentenced to probation. This legislation was passed in response to protestors blocking roadways during last year’s nationwide protests against police brutality.

3. Financial Abuse of the Elderly

HB 1156: Signed June 9

This bill creates the new offense of financial abuse of an elderly individual. A person commits this offense if he or she “knowingly engages in the wrongful taking, appropriation, obtaining, retention or use of money or other property of an elderly person” by any means, including financial exploitation. The penalties for financial abuse of an elder range from a Class B misdemeanor to a first-degree felony depending on the amount of property or money taken. This bill was passed in response to the growing number of elderly Texans who fall victims to scams, frauds and exploitation each year.

Financial Abuse of Elder

 

4. Impersonating a Private Investigator

HB 1400: Signed June 15

It is now illegal in Texas to impersonate a private investigator, who are licensed by the Texas Department of Public Safety and deal with personal and highly sensitive matters. A person commits this offense if he or she impersonates a private investigator with the intent to induce another to submit to the person’s pretended authority or to rely on the person’s pretended acts of a private investigator, or knowingly purports to exercise any function the requires licensure as a private investigator. Impersonating or purporting to be a private investigator is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.

Impersonating a Private Investigator

5. Unlawful Use of Fireworks: Endangering Law Enforcement

HB 2366, Signed June 1

Over the past year, some parts of the country saw increased hostility toward law enforcement. Fireworks and laser pointers became methods intended to obstruct or injure law enforcement. Texas lawmakers sought to discourage this conduct by increasing the penalty for directing a laser pointer at an officer and by creating the criminal offense for the unlawful use of fireworks. It is now a felony to explode or ignite fireworks to interfere with or flee from official police activity. It’s a state jail felony (punishable by six months to two years in state jail) to use fireworks that are sold to consumers, and it’s a second degree felony (punishable by two to 20 years in prison) if explosive fireworks, such as those used in public displays, are fired at an officer. It is also a third-degree felony to direct laser pointers at a uniformed safety officer, rising to a first-degree felony if the conduct causes bodily injury to the officer. Prior to House Bill 2366, using a laser pointer at officers was only a misdemeanor offense.

6. Soliciting a Prostitute is Now a Felony 

HB 1540: Signed June 16

In the past, Texas law made no distinction between “prostitution” and “solicitation of prostitution.” Prostitutes and so-called “Johns” both faced a misdemeanor charge and were punished equally. That changed in September 2021 when Texas became the first state to make solicitation of prostitution a state jail felony. This means that “Johns” face harsher punishment that the person offering sexual services. A state jail felony is punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine. The new law is part of sweeping legislation aimed at cracking down on human trafficking. In addition to increasing penalties for solicitation of prostitution, House Bill 1540 also implemented numerous other measures. Notably, it also made human trafficking a first-degree felony if the actor recruited, enticed or obtained the victim from a shelter or treatment center for runaways, foster children, and the homeless, among others.

Solicitation of Prostitution

7. Homeless Camping Ban

HB 1925: Signed June 15

Camping in an unauthorized public place in Texas is now a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine. The bill effectively criminalizes homelessness. However, the law does state that an officer must make a reasonable effort to redirect homeless people to available resources, such as non-profit agencies, “before or at the time” a citation is issued. If the person is arrested or detained solely for this offense, law enforcement must also ensure all of the person’s property is preserved.
homeless camping ban

8. No Police Reality Shows

HB 54: Signed May 26

This bill prohibits a law enforcement agency from authorizing a person to accompany and film a peace officer acting in the line of duty for the purpose of producing a reality television show. It is also known as “Javier Ambler’s Law,” stemming from the death of a 40-year-old black man who was tasered by Williamson County deputies. The Javier Ambler Law bans law enforcement agencies from contracting with shows such as “COPS and “Live PD,” the latter of which captured Ambler’s deadly encounter with Williamson deputies but never aired.

9. Swatting: False Report to Induce Emergency Response

SB 1056: Signed June 18

Senate Bill 1056 makes it a Class A misdemeanor to falsely report a crime or an emergency to elicit an emergency response from law enforcement or other emergency responders. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. The punishment is increased to a state jail felony, punishable by six months to two years in state jail, if the defendant has been previously convicted twice of the offense. The punishment is a third-degree felony, punishable by two to 10 years in prison, if a person is seriously injured or killed as a result of the emergency response. A court can also order a defendant to make restitution or reimburse the cost of the emergency response. Learn more about pranking or swatting police.

Swatting

 

10. Sexual Assault by a Coach or Tutor

Senate Bill 1164, Signed June 16

Senate Bill 1664 expands the circumstances that constitute sexual assault by adding provisions to the definition of consent.  Sexual assault is without consent if a coach or tutor causes an individual to submit or participate by using influence or power to exploit their dependency on the actor. Additionally, if a person is a caregiver hired to assist a person with daily activities and causes a person to submit or participate by exploiting their dependence on them, sexual assault is without consent.

sexual assault by coach or tutor

 

11. Flying a Drone over Airport or Military Facility

SB 149, Signed June 14

It is now a Class B misdemeanor to operate a drone over airports and military institutions. Senate Bill 149 expanded the definition of critical infrastructure facilities to include public or private airports recognized by the FAA and military installations owned or operated by the federal or state government, or another governmental entity. A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2000 fine.

Drones

12. Reckless Driving Exhibition, Street Racing

SB 1495, Signed June 18

In an effort to cut down on dangerous reckless driving exhibitions and street racing,  lawmakers added the definition of “reckless driving exhibition” to the Penal Code and increased the penalties for people who participates in reckless driving events. Obstructing a highway or passageway by participating in a reckless driving exhibition is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4000 fine.  The penalty is increased to a state jail felony if the driver has previously been convicted of this offense; operates a vehicle while intoxicated; or causes someone to suffer bodily injury. The bill also creates the Class B misdemeanor offense of interference with a peace officer investigation of a highway racing or reckless driving exhibition.

13. False Statement to Buy a Firearm

SB 162, Signed May 30

Senate Bill 162, also known as the “Lie and Try” bill, makes it a state jail felony for a person prohibited from possessing a firearm to lie on a firearms background check form. A state jail felony is punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility. The bill was filed in response to the 2019 Walmart Shooting in El Paso, which left 23 people dead. The Texas Safety Action Report that was written after the El Paso mass shooting stated that an estimated 100,000 people lie on firearm background checks each year.

False Statement to Buy a Firearm

 

14. Operating a Boarding Home without a License

SB 500, Signed June 14

This legislation makes it a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine, for a person to operate a boarding home without a permit in a county or municipality that requires a permit. This law was passed in an effort to prevent abuses and ensure protection of vulnerable residents.

Boarding House

 

 

15. Harassment Expands to Social Media Posts

SB 530, Signed May 30

Senate Bill 530 updates the harassment statute and makes it a class B misdemeanor offense to harass another person by publishing repeated electronic communications on a website, including a social media platform, with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm, torment, or embarrass that person. A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine. The penalty can go up to a Class A misdemeanor, however, if the actor has been previously convicted of the offense or if it involved a child under age 18 with the intent to cause the child serious bodily injury or to commit suicide.

16. Move Over, Slow Down for Toll Vehicles

HB 2048, Signed June 4

Current law requires drivers to move over or slow down for specific types of vehicles, such as emergency vehicles or TxDot vehicles. House Bill 2048 adds to that list by requiring drivers to vacate the lane next to, or slow down 20 mph slower than the posted speed limit, when passing a vehicle operated by a toll project entity that has certain required visual signals.

 

17. Medical Marijuana Expansion

HB 1535: Signed June 15

More Texans can now use medical marijuana. House Bill 1534 expanded Texas’ Compassionate Use Program for people suffering from certain conditions, including cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

18. Alcohol-to-Go

HB 1024: Signed May 12

Alcohol-to-go is now law in Texas. Restaurants are allowed to sell beer, wine and mixed drinks with pickup and delivery orders. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order to expand alcohol sales during the onset of the pandemic last year in an effort to open up a revenue stream for restaurants. Now, lawmakers have made alcohol-to-go indefinite.

 

19. Guns in Hotel Rooms

SB 20: Signed June 18

Hotel guests are now allowed to carry and store firearms and ammunition in their private hotel rooms. This new law prohibits hotels from banning firearms, however the hotel can adopt a policy requiring firearms and ammunition to be carried in a certain manner in a common area on the property.

 

20. Blood  Specimens in DWI Cases

HB 558: Signed June 18

This legislation requires automatic, mandatory blood draws for motorists who are arrested for an intoxicated offense after seriously injuring someone or causing a death. The legislation stems from the death of a pedestrian, a Denison school teacher, who was struck by a motorist whose blood was never tested. The motorist was later no-billed by a grand jury. This legislation will likely result in government overreach and a significant number of violations of the Fourth Amendment. Additionally HB 558 will result in the unnecessary suppression of evidence and a guarantee of extensive litigation in Texas’ trial and appellate courts. There is a good chance this legislation will likely be found unconstitutional on appeal. For the time being, though, it is the law.

21. Bo’s Law: Police Body Cameras

HB 929, Signed June 16

House Bill 929 is also known as the “Botham Jean Act,” named after a black man who was shot and killed in his apartment by Amber Guyer, an off-duty officer who mistook him for a burglar. The new law requires officers to keep their body cameras activated during the entirety of an investigation, unless the camera has been deactivated in compliance with a police department’s specific policy.

22. Sexual Assault Evidence Collection

HB 2462: Signed June 16

Individuals who make a sexual assault accusation are entitled to a forensic medical examination within 120 hours of the alleged offense, even if there is no corroborating information or if there is a history of making false reports. Law enforcement does not have the authority to decline a request. The bill also requires DPS to submit an annual report on the number of unanalyzed sexual assault evidence collection kits in the tracking system to the governor and legislature and to post the report on its website.

 

23. Active Shooter Alert System

HB 103, Signed May 24

In response to mass shootings, lawmakers have ordered the implementation of the “Texas Active Shooter Alert System,” which will allow Texans to receive alerts if an active shooting is taking place in their area. It is designed to work a lot like an Amber Alert. Local DPS will active the alert system in a 50-mile radius of an active shooter’s location and notifications will be sent to area cell phones. The law is also known at the “Leilah Hernandez Act” – named after a 15-year-old Odessa High School student who was the the youngest killed in a mass shooting on August 31.

 

24. Police Chokeholds

SB 69, Signed June 14

This legislation prohibits law enforcement from intentionally using a chokehold, carotid artery hold, or similar neck restraint when searching or arresting an individual unless the restraint is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury or death of the officer or another person. The bill also establishes an officer’s duty to intervene to stop or prevent another officer from using excessive force and requires officers to promptly report excessive force. This legislation was filed in response to the death of George Floyd, who is black and died after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. That officer, Derek Chauvin, sentenced to more than 22 years in prison for murder.

Police Chokehold Ban

 

25. Human Trafficking Awareness for Motel Employees

HB 290, Signed May 18

This legislation requires employees of motel, hotels, and other commercial lodging establishments to undergo human trafficking awareness and prevention. The operator of a commercial lodging establishment must require each of its direct employees to complete an annual human trafficking awareness and prevention training program, which includes guidance on how to identify at-risk individuals and report and respond. The bill also allows officers to enter the premises to ensure compliance.

26. Asset Forfeiture Funds from Human Trafficking

HB 402, Signed June 7

House Bill 402 allows prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to use certain civil asset forfeiture funds to cover the cost of a contract with a city or county program to provide services to victims of trafficking. The funds would come from contraband that was used to commit or facilitate human trafficking offenses.

27. Officer’s Duty to Render and Request Aid in Excessive Force Incidents

SB 2212, Signed June 18

Senate Bill 2212 establishes a duty for officers to request emergency medical services and render aid to a person who is injured during the course of an officer’s duties – as long as it is safe for the officer to do so. This legislation puts more responsibility on officers in excessive force cases.

 

28. 9-1-1 Drug Overdose Defense

HB 1694, Signed June 16

This legislation, known as the Jessica Sosa Act, provides a defense to prosecution of certain drug offenses if the actor was the first to request emergency medical assistance in response to a possible overdose of another person, remained on the scene until medical assistance arrived, and cooperated with medics and law enforcement. The defense to prosecution would not be available if the peace officer was arresting the individual at the time, if he or she was committing another crime or has previously been convicted or placed on deferred for a drug offense.

 

 

29. Sanctuary State

HB 2622, Signed June 16

With the passage of House Bill 2622, Texas now joins the ranks of a small, but growing number, of states that have passed laws that designate them as a “Second Amendment Sanctuary State.” This legislation prevents state officials from enforcing new federal statutes, orders or rules regulating firearms, firearm accessories or firearm ammunition that don’t exist under state law. It prohibits a state agency, political subdivision, or law enforcement officer from receiving state funds if the entity contracts with or provides assistance in any way to a federal agency related to firearms registration, background checks, confiscation programs or firearm sales.

30. Silencers are Now Legal

HB 957, Signed June 15

House Bill 957 removes a firearm silencer from the list of weapons that are prohibited in Texas, so it is no longer an offense to possess a silencer. The bill also establishes that firearm suppressors that are manufactured and remain in Texas are not subject to federal law or regulation.

 

31. Withholding Educator’s Names Until After Indictment in Improper Relationship Cases

HB 246, Signed June 15

This legislation prohibits the release of the name of a school employee who is accused of an improper relationship between an educator and student until the employee is indicted for the offense. However, the bill authorizes the release of the employee’s name regardless of an indictment as necessary for the school to report or investigate the accusation.

 

32. No More 180 Day License Suspension for Drugs

SB 181, Signed June 14

Senate Bill 1818 revises the law that automatically suspends a person’s driver’s license for 180 days for any drug conviction, regardless of circumstances. Instead of an automatic suspension, the bill specifies that a $100 fine be imposed instead for a misdemeanor conviction. There are exceptions, however. The bill specifies that a driver’s license would be automatically suspended for 90 days if convicted of:

  • a felony drug offense;
  • or  a misdemeanor drug offense if the defendant has been previously convicted of a drug offense in the last 36 months 

33. No Parole for Continuous Trafficking

HB 465, Signed June 15

Under this statute, inmates sentenced for continuous trafficking of children are ineligible for parole unless both parties enter into an agreement at the time of trial. In that case, the defendant would have to plead guilty and the prosecutor, defendant’s attorney and defendant would have to agree in writing that the defendant would become eligible when he or she served one half of the sentence or 30 years, whichever is less. Judges, upon motion of the prosecutor, would be required to make an affirmative finding that the parties had entered into an agreement and enter the finding into the case judgement.

34. New Penalty Group for Fentanyl

SB 768, Signed June 14

This legislation puts fentanyl in a new category, Penalty Group 1-B, and increases the penalties for people convicted of manufacturing or delivering fentanyl. The penalties are:

  • less than one gram, state jail felony punishable by six months to two years in state jail and a maximum $10,000 fine;
  • 1-4 grams, second-degree felony punishable to 2 to 10 year in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine;
  • 4-200 grams, 10 years up to life in prison and a maximum $20,000 fine;
  • 200-400 grams, 15 years to up to life in prison and a maximum $200,000 fine;
  • more than 400 grams, 20 years to up to life in prison and a maximum $500,000 fine

The law also specifies that anyone convicted of the new offense for an amount more than four grams is not eligible for probation or deferred adjudication.

 

35. Texting Court Appearances

HB 4293, Signed June 15

This new law requires counties to send text messages to defendants about scheduled court appearances by 2022. The Office of Court Administration is tasked with developing and making available to each county (at no cost) a court reminder program.

36. Coverage for Prosecutors on Brady Materials

SB 111, Signed June 14 

This legislation requires a law enforcement agency filing a case with the state attorney to submit a written statement acknowledging that all documents, items and information in the agency’s possession that must be disclosed to the defendant have been disclosed to the prosecutor. If the law enforcement agency discovers any additional information at any time after the case is filed, they must promptly disclose it to the prosecutor.

37. Probable Cause for Tracking Devices

SB 112, Signed June 14

Senate Bill 112 requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant to install a mobile tracking device. Applications for the warrant must be supported by a sworn affidavit with substantial facts establishing probable cause.

38. Suspect’s Right to Record CPS Investigations and Interviews

HB 135, Signed June 16

House Bill 135 requires the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to inform an alleged perpetrator in a child abuse or neglect investigation that the suspect has the right to record the interview, and they also have the right to request an administrative review of the departments findings after the investigation. Child Protective Services (CPS), a division of DFPS, is responsible for conducting civil investigations of alleged abuse or neglect by caregivers or household members.

 

39. Harsher Punishment for Crimes Against Public Servants

House Bill 624, Signed June 16

People who commit an offense against someone whom they know is a public servant or against a member of the public servant’s household or family now face increased punishment. The punishments would be increased one level, so if an offense was a Class A misdemeanor, for example, it would be elevated to a state jail felony. First-degree felonies would not be increased. The increased punishments apply to arson, criminal mischief, criminal trespass, breach of computer security, harassment, stalking, or fraudulent use of possession of identifying information.

40. Continuous Sexual Abuse Expanded to Include the Disabled

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Street Racing is Illegal in Texas

Street racing is illegal in Texas, but what charges drivers face depends on the facts and circumstances. Street racing can be charged as “racing on a highway” or “reckless driving.” If someone is injured or dies during a street race, more serious charges can be filed. In this article, we will discuss why and how street racing is illegal in Texas.

Street Racing in Texas: Law Enforcement Attention

Fort Worth, Texas, is home to the Texas Motor Speedway, one of the premier NASCAR racing destinations in the country. While the city has a love for loud and fast cars, there has also been a recent phenomenon of dangerous and illegal street racing activity. Street racing in Texas has doubled from 2019 to 2020 due to the pandemic, which has resulted in deaths, serious injuries, and countless arrests and vehicle impounds. As a result,  street racing and stunting has become a focus for law enforcement, who are now also cracking down on street racing spectators.

Street Racing Prosecutions in Texas

Racing on a Highway

Class B Misdemeanors in Texas

Class B Misdemeanors in Texas

Racing on a highway is made illegal under Texas Transportation Code 545.420. In this section, a street race is defined as the use of one or more vehicles in an attempt to:

  • Outgain or outdistance another vehicle or prevent another vehicle from passing;
  • Arrive at a given destination ahead of another vehicle or vehicles; or
  • Test the physical stamina or endurance of an operator over a long-distance driving route.

The law also covers drag racing or acceleration contests, as well as any vehicle speed competition or contest. If someone is found guilty of street racing for the first time, they could face a Class B misdemeanor which is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and $2,000 in fines.

Penalties increase for those previously convicted of street racing or if an injury occurs. Street racers face a Class A misdemeanor if they have previously been convicted once of street racing, or if they were intoxicated or had any open containers during the time of racing. A Class A misdemeanor in Texas is punishable by up to a year in jail and $4,000 in fines. If an alleged offender has been convicted twice of street racing, they can face a State Jail Felony, which is punishable by 180 days to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine.

Any street racing incident can be upgraded to a felony if an injury occurred. If any individual suffers a bodily injury as a result of the street racing, offenders face a Third-Degree Felony which is punishable from 2 to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. If an individual suffers seriously bodily injury or death, the offense can be upgraded to a Second-Degree Felony,  punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Along with jail time and fines, street racers also face the possibility of a suspended driver’s license for one year. In order to regain a license, they must complete 10 hours of community service as required by the Texas Transportation Code. Those caught driving with a suspended license will have a one-year suspension placed at the date they were caught and jeopardize the possibility of having their license reinstated early. Furthermore, vehicles can be seized from alleged street racers if any property damage or personal injury occurred during the crime.

Reckless Driving

Reckless driving is another charge that can be applied to street racers. Under the Texas Transportation Code, a person is guilty of reckless driving if they drive a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. In simpler terms, any driving activity that creates a deliberate or conscious indifference to the safety of others is considered reckless driving. Reckless driving is a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and $200 in fines.

Obstructing a Highway or Passageway

In 2021, Senate Bill 1495 was passed, which enhanced the penalty for obstructing a highway or passageway from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor for an individual who engages in a reckless driving exhibition. The bill enhances the penalty to a state jail felony for person who has previously been convicted of this offense; a person who operates a vehicle while intoxicated; or who causes someone to suffer bodily injury. The bill also created the Class B misdemeanor offense of interference with a peace officer investigation of a highway racing or reckless driving exhibition. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.

Manslaughter

Manslaughter is another, extremely serious crime that can be charged if the driver recklessly causes the death of another individual. A manslaughter charge is a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. In order to be guilty of manslaughter, prosecutors must show that the alleged offender was aware of the risks that could occur but consciously disregarded them.

How Common is Street Racing in North Texas?

Street Racing is a relatively common occurrence in Texas and has been growing in popularity recently with its growing social media presence and spectator participation. While it is hard to separate street racing deaths and injuries from other incidents, Dallas police have reported over 14,000 citations for street racing in 2020 and an additional 612 citations for spectators of street racing. They also report having made 1,196 arrests and 659 impounds. This is more than double the previous year, suggesting the pandemic has increased the amount of street racing in Texas. Street racing is also a common occurrence in Fort Worth, prompting 1,800 Fort Worth residents to sign a petition in November of 2020 advocating for police to address the problem. Residents note that the Summer Creek area in southwest Fort Worth is a particular problem area for street racing.

Can you get in Trouble for Watching Street Racing?

Yes, in certain cities – including Fort Worth. In April 2021, Fort Worth passed a new city ordinance making it illegal to watch a street race. According to the ordinance, any person present as a spectator at a street race or reckless driving exhibition can face up to $500 in fines. This new law was passed in an effort to curb the amount of street racing in Fort Worth, as spectators are a large draw for street racers and stunting.

How are Officials Cracking Down on Street Racing?

In Fort Worth and North Texas, numerous measures have taken place to crack down on street racing. One of the most effective has been the deployment of unmarked police cars, which have been able to infiltrate and stop street racing events. Further, cameras have been installed in areas notorious for street racing in order to identify suspects and deter others from racing. Along with installing speed bumps and LIDAR detectors,  Fort Worth police have also set up areas for marked police cars to station in order to deter street racing events.

In Dallas, police are suggesting an alteration to the actual road system known as “Operation Road Diet.” Under this plan, police suggest that restricting the use of street lanes and opening them up only to pedestrian walk-lanes and bike lanes could curb dangerous driving. In DeSoto, police have been using aerial drones in order to identify street racing suspects and deter others from participating. With the growing number of street racing, as well as the outcry from city residents, many North Texas cities have also been implementing laws that crackdown on racing events, such as Fort Worth’s spectator law.

Arrested for Street Racing or Stunting? Contact Us.

If you or a loved one has been charged with street racing or stunting, serious consequences can occur which require immediate action. The attorneys at Varghese Summersett have years of experience as both criminal prosecutors and defense attorneys, giving them expert knowledge of how Texas criminal courts operate. Along with hundreds of jury trials, the street racing attorneys at Varghese Summersett are known for relentless defense and favorable results. Call our street racing attorneys today to develop a legal plan of action.

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Hate Crimes on Rise

Hate crimes are soaring across the United States, reaching their highest level in more than a decade. It seems that every day, a new crime occurs against a group of people because of their status –  whether it’s race, religion, sexuality, etc.

With hate crimes on the rise over the past few decades, states across the country as well as the federal government have been updating and expanding their hate crime laws. Today, there are numerous federal laws criminally charging hate crimes, and Texas itself has recently updated its hate crime laws to protect many minority groups. In this article, the attorneys at Varghese Summersett will explain the elements of a hate crime, how they are charged in Texas and in the federal courts, and potential punishments.

What is a Hate Crime in Texas?

A hate crime is a crime that was committed because of a certain characteristic of the victim. In Texas, a hate crime occurs when a person intentionally chooses to commit a crime against the victim because of their:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • National Origin
  • Age
  • Gender
  • or Sexuality

The FBI, which handles hate crimes at the federal level, also uses similar distinctions to define a hate crime. Essentially, any crime that is motivated by prejudice toward an individual’s status – such as assaulting someone because of their race or shooting someone because of their sexual preferences  –  can be elevated to a hate crime. People who are charged with a hate crime face harsher punishment.

When Does a Crime Become a Hate Crime in Texas?

In Texas, crimes against people, arson, graffiti, and criminal mischief can be elevated to a hate crime if investigators determine hatred or prejudice was the clear motivation to commit the crime. Under the Texas Hate Crimes Act, a hate crime is defined as any crime motivated by “prejudice, hatred, or advocacy of violence.”  Explicit motivation must be found showing the defendant committed the crime due to a hatred or prejudice toward the victim because of the victim’s status.

What is the Punishment for a Texas Hate Crime?

Defendants accused of a hate crime face enhanced punishments in Texas, but this enhancement only applies to certain offenses. Pursuant to Code of Criminal Procedure Article 42.014, if someone commits a crime against a person, arson, graffiti, or criminal mischief, an affirmative finding must be made that the offense was committed because of bias or prejudice against a group identified by race, color, disability, religion, national origin, age, gender, sexual preference, or because the victim was a peace officer or judge. This affirmative finding will increase the punishment level by one degree (other than Class A misdemeanors, which has an enhancement on the minimum punishment.)  First degree felonies are excluded.

Put simply, if a crime is prosecuted as a hate crime, the penalty range is usually elevated to the next higher category, as outlined in Texas Penal Code 12.47, which sets the punishments for hate crimes. For instance, if a Class C misdemeanor criminal mischief case was shown to have taken place because of hatred toward the victim’s race, the crime would be elevated to a Class B misdemeanor. There are a few exceptions to this rule, however. First, a Class A misdemeanor will not be enhanced to a felony, but rather the minimum time of confinement in jail is increased to 180 days. Second, a first degree felony cannot be upgraded because it already carries a punishment of up to life in prison.

When Does a Crime Become a Federal Hate Crime?

While most crimes in the United States are handled by the state courts, federal prosecutors can choose to prosecute a hate crime, especially if the circumstances are extraordinary. There are numerous federal laws regarding hate crimes on the books, including the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. The federal government’s definition of a hate crime is quite similar to Texas law. While initially hate crimes were only considered under the categories of race, color, religion, or ethnicity, the 2009 Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded the categories of hate crimes to include disability, gender, and LGBTQ identities.

What is the Punishment for a Federal Hate Crime?

The punishments for a federal hate crime are listed under 18 U.S. Code 249. Anyone found to be guilty of causing bodily injury or attempting to cause bodily injury to another person because of their race, color, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or disability, can be imprisoned up to 10 years and fined. If the hate crime results in the death of the victim, attempt to kill the victim, or involves kidnapping, attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, the alleged offender could face up to life in prison and fines.

What’s the Difference Between a Hate Crime and Hate Speech?

While hate speech is offensive toward people and meant to be that way, there is no law that makes hate speech illegal in the United States. Under the First Amendment, Americans are protected to say just about anything they want, as long as it does not incite violence. The Supreme Court has agreed with this numerous times, such as in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), where the Court ruled that it was perfectly fine for a Ku Klux Klan member to use speech that promoted violence in general, unless the speech directed people to take unlawful action immediately. Furthermore, the infamous Westboro Baptist Church was found to be protected under the First Amendment in Snyder v. Phelps (2011), even though they are well-known to picket funerals of military members and use derogatory language towards individuals identifying as a member of the LGBTQ community. Based on the law and previous rulings, hate speech can only be considered a crime if it specifically incites immediate violence toward an individual or group because of their status.

Are Hate Crimes on the Rise?

Hate crimes have been and continue to increase. Based on the most recent data from the FBI’s 2019 Hate Crime Statistics Report, hate crimes rose 3 percent in 2019, with 7,314 hate crimes being recorded. This is the highest total since 2018. More specifically, there were 51 hate crime murders reported in 2019, the highest total since data collection began in 1991. Further, hate crimes rose for pretty much every minority group, with hate crimes toward Hispanics increasing 9 percent, crimes against Jews increasing 14 percent, and crimes against transgender individuals rising by 18 percent. Although recently hate crimes have decreased, likely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, hate crimes toward Asians have increased 149 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.

What are Some Examples of Hate Crime Arrests?

One of the most recent and infamous hate crimes to occur in Texas was the 2019 El Paso Shooting, in which 23 individuals were killed and another 23 injured when a gunman opened fire at an El Paso Walmart. The gunman specifically targeted Hispanic people and was charged with 22 counts of committing a hate crime resulting in death, among other charges.

Although the El Paso Shooting seems like a rather extreme example of a hate crime, there are many hate crimes that occur every day that do not receive national media attention. For example, in 2019, police were investigating a shooting as a hate crime after a Dallas man shot and severely injuring a transgender woman while shouting slurs. That same year, San Antonio police were investigating a possible hate crime at a local church after it was vandalized with satanic symbols and profanity on Christmas Eve.

How Common are Texas’ Hate Crimes?

In 2019 alone, the FBI reported that there were 456 hate crime incidents in the state of Texas. Of that number, 15 were reported in Fort Worth – including eight because of race, two because of religion, and five because of the victim’s sexual orientation. Cities surrounding Fort Worth also reported high numbers of hate crimes that year, with Arlington totaling 16, North Richland Hills reporting 4, and Dallas reporting 30.

Accused of a Hate Crime? Call Us.

Being accused of a hate crime is a serious accusation that, if convicted, can carry substantial prison time and hefty fines. It is critical that you get experienced legal representation as soon as possible when facing such a serious charge. We can help. The team of hate crime attorneys at Varghese Summersett have a reputation for relentless, aggressive representation. Call today for a complimentary consultation with a member of our team.

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A quick google search of ‘deepfake’ will bring up hilariously entertaining videos of celebrities and public figures such as Barak Obama, Donald Trump, and Nicolas Cage doing and saying out-of-character things.

But Deepfakes — an artificially created false media made to look hyper-realistic — are expanding past mere entertainment and entering into criminal territory. Recently, a mother from Pennsylvania used the cutting-edge technology in an attempt to get her daughter’s cheerleading rivals kicked off the team.

Seeing the potential threat that deepfake poses to our perception of reality, Texas lawmakers became the first state to pass a law criminalizing deepfakes.

This new era of media tampering is bringing up many questions. Here’s a look at the most current answers to questions about deepfakes in Texas. 

What is a Deepfake?

Deepfake, a combination of the terms “deep learning” and “fake,” is a video, image, or voice recording of a person in which their voice, face, or body has been digitally altered so that they appear to be someone else.

Deepfake creators use technology called deep learning, an artificial intelligence (AI) function that learns through artificial neural networks, to make videos and images.

Is it Illegal to Make a Deepfake in Texas?

It can be, if it is politically motivated to sabotage a candidate or election. On September 1, 2019, Texas became the first state in the country to pass a law prohibiting the creation and distribution of videos intended to harm candidates for public office or influence elections.  The law, which was introduced as TX SB751, states that:

A person commits an offense if he or she with intent to injure a candidate or influence the result of an election:

                 (1)  creates a deep fake video; and

                 (2)  causes the deep fake video to be published or distributed within 30 days of an election.

The law states that a “deep fake video” means a video created with artificial intelligence that, with the intent to deceive, appears to depict a real person performing an action that did not occur in reality, 

What Other Crimes Can Stem from Deepfakes in Texas?

While there is only one law that specifically criminalizes deepfakes in Texas, there are other charges that can apply to deepfake creators. Below are some examples of how a deepfake could land you in deep trouble:

  • Cyberbullying: a deepfake that is electronically communicated to bully, intimidate, shame, or threaten a person
  • Extortion: a deepfake used to pressure someone to pay money to have it suppressed or destroyed
  • Harassment: a deepfake used to persistently and wrongfully abuse, insult, offend, or intimidate.
  • Revenge Porn: a deepfake containing sexually explicit images or videos of a person that is circulated without the consent of the subject in order to cause them distress or embarrassment. While it deepfakes won’t qualify as revenge porn in Texas as it stands today, you should expect that could change in the years to come. Other jurisdictions are already confronting this issue.

What are Possible Punishments for People Accused of Deepfakes in Texas?

  • Political Deepfakes (TXSB751): Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and fines up to $4,000.
  • Cyberbullying: Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and fines up to $2,000
  • Extortion: The punishment for an extortion conviction depends on the value of the money or property involved. The greater the value of the goods extorted, the harsher the penalty. For more information on extortion penalties click here
  • Harassment: Harassment cases are generally Class B misdemeanors, but if you have been convicted of a harassment case in the past, then the offense will be enhanced to a Class A misdemeanor. 

How Can You Spot a Deepfake?

Spotting a deepfake is getting increasingly more difficult, but there are some key things to look out for when trying to determine reality from manufactured media. They include:

  • Strange or no blinking
  • Uneven or splotchy skin tone
  • Bad lip synching
  • Inconsistencies in fine details such as hair and jewelry 

Facing Deepfake Charges in Texas? Contact Us

If you or a loved one is facing a charge pertaining to the creation or distribution of a deepfake, then it is crucial to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation with a member of our team.

Varghese Summersett

February 8, 2021

FORT WORTH, TX – Police in Sansom Park have arrested three people over a fatal stabbing that occurred outside of a Sansom Park bar in late October.

According to NBC DFW, 29-year-old Chris Johnson died shortly after midnight on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, following an altercation at the 8 Ball Billiards and Bar near Jacksboro Highway.

Johnson’s girlfriend told police he got into an argument with one of the suspects before leaving the bar and was stabbed in the back on the way out. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The three men were taken into custody on Monday, February 8th. They are all being held at the Tarrant County Jail on a $1,000,000 bond.

The post News: 3 suspects arrested in connection to fatal Sansom Park stabbing appeared first on Varghese Summersett PLLC.