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Varghese Summersett

What is Harassment in Texas?

Harassment is defined in Penal Code Section 42.07 and covers a wide variety of actions that are committed with the “intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass another” including obscene communication, threatening communication, false alarms about a family member’s serious bodily injury or death, repeated telephone or electronic communications, making phone calls and hanging up, and publishing repeated electronic communications online that are not of a public concern and is likely to cause emotional distress, abuse or torment.

intent for harassment in texas

Intent Requirement in Harassment Laws

Intent

At its core, “intent” refers to the conscious objective or purpose behind an action. For harassment charges, it’s not enough that someone felt harassed; the alleged harasser must have acted with the deliberate purpose of causing distress or discomfort.

Harass

To persistently annoy or torment someone. This could be through repeated unwanted communications, following someone, or other behaviors that persistently disturb the peace of another.

Annoy

To irritate or disturb, usually through some repeated act or action that is unwelcome. It’s less intense than harassment but still causes discomfort.

Alarm

To cause fear or a heightened state of awareness. This could be through threats or actions that make someone fear for their safety or well-being.

Abuse

To treat with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly. In the context of harassment, it often refers to emotional or psychological mistreatment, though it can also encompass physical actions.

Torment

To inflict severe physical or psychological pain. It’s more intense than mere annoyance and implies a level of cruelty or intensity in the actions.

Embarrass

To cause someone to feel self-conscious or ashamed. This could be through revealing personal information, mocking, or other actions that demean or belittle the person in public or private.

Importance of Intent in Harassment Cases

The intent requirement ensures that only those who act with a malicious or harmful purpose are held legally accountable. Accidental or unintentional actions that might annoy or even alarm someone wouldn’t typically meet this standard.

For example, if someone sends a text to the wrong number, even if the recipient is annoyed, there’s no intent to harass or annoy, so it wouldn’t be considered harassment under the law.

Proving Intent

Intent is generally proven circumstantially. Evidence such as repeated actions (like multiple unwanted messages), direct threats, or other behaviors can be used to demonstrate intent.

Examples of Harassment in Texas

To qualify as harassment, the acts must be done with the specific “intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass another.” The context, frequency, and relationship between the parties involved play a crucial role in determining whether an act can be legally classified as harassment.

  1. Obscene Communication:

    • Definition: Sending messages that contain lewd, vulgar, or indecent material.
    • Example: A person sends explicit photos or messages with graphic descriptions of sexual acts to another individual without their consent, intending to offend or disturb them.
  2. Threatening Communication:

    • Definition: Making threats of harm or violence.
    • Example: Someone sends a text message saying, “Watch your back, I’m coming for you,” or “You’ll regret crossing me.”
  3. False Alarms about a Family Member’s Serious Bodily Injury or Death:

    • Definition: Deliberately conveying false information about the serious injury or death of a family member.
    • Example: A person calls another individual and falsely informs them that their sibling has been in a severe car accident, intending to cause panic and distress.
  4. Repeated Telephone or Electronic Communications:

    • Definition: Sending multiple unwanted phone calls, texts, emails, or other electronic messages.
    • Example: An ex-partner sends dozens of emails and texts over a short period, even after being asked to stop, with the intent to annoy or torment the recipient.
  5. Making Phone Calls and Hanging Up:

    • Definition: Calling someone and intentionally disconnecting without speaking, especially when done repeatedly.
    • Example: Over several days, an individual receives multiple calls from an unknown number. Each time they answer, the caller immediately hangs up, causing confusion and anxiety.
  6. Publishing Repeated Electronic Communications Online Not of Public Concern:

    • Definition: Posting multiple messages or content online, especially on social media, that isn’t related to public concerns and is likely to cause emotional distress.
    • Example: Someone takes private messages from a past relationship and repeatedly posts them on various social media platforms, not because they’re of public interest, but to embarrass and torment their ex-partner.

Understanding Harassment in Texas

Harassment in Texas: Offense Level and Punishment

Class B Misdemeanor

Harassment is generally classified as a Class B misdemeanor when a person commits an offense under the provisions of the harassment statute without any prior convictions for harassment.
• Punishment:
• Up to 180 days in jail.
• A fine of up to $2,000.
• Or both the fine and imprisonment.

Class A Misdemeanor

If the offender has a previous conviction for harassment, the subsequent offense is elevated to a Class A misdemeanor.
• Punishment:
• Up to one year in jail.
• A fine of up to $4,000.
• Or both the fine and imprisonment.

Legal Challenges to the Harassment Statute in Texas

In a 5-4 split decision, the Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas ruled the harassment statute in Texas is not unconstitutionally overbroad in its restriction of free speech. The portion of the harassment statute that became the basis of the appeal was the limitation of repeated messages meant to harass. Judge Scott Walker writing for the majority held the criminal prohibition in Texas Penal Code § 42.07(a)(7) against “electronic communications” repeatedly sent with the intent and likely result to “harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend” the recipient punishes “conduct,” did not implicate the First Amendment, and is not subject to any overbreadth analysis. So the harassment statute is still on the books in Texas although lawyers are hoping the Supreme Court will take up the case.

Barton Challenge

• Case: Ex parte Barton
• Issue: The intermediate court of appeals held that § 42.07 (a) (7) of the Penal Code, which pertains to electronic harassment, is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad under the First Amendment.
• Status: The Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the statute and now a writ has been filed with the United States Supreme Court.

Sanders Challenge

• Case: Ex parte Sanders
• Issue: The state’s highest criminal court upheld a state law that makes it a crime to send repeated emails, texts, and other electronic messages with the intent to harass, annoy, or embarrass focusing on the act rather than the speech.
• Status: The Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the statute and now a writ has been filed with the United States Supreme Court.

Defenses in Harassment Cases in Texas:

  1. Lack of Intent:

    The Texas Penal Code requires that the alleged harasser acted with the “intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass another.” If this intent cannot be proven, it can serve as a defense.
  2. Mistaken Identity:

    The defendant can argue that they were not the person who committed the alleged harassment. This could be supported by alibis, witness testimonies, or other evidence.
  3. Consent:

    If the alleged victim had given prior consent to the actions or communications that are now being labeled as harassment, it can serve as a defense.
  4. First Amendment Rights:

    In some cases, the defendant might argue that their actions or communications are protected by the First Amendment, especially if the alleged harassment is based on speech or expression. However, this defense has limitations, especially when the speech involves threats or obscenities.
  5. Truth:

    In cases where the harassment allegation involves spreading false information, proving the truth of the statement can serve as a defense.
  6. Insufficient Evidence:

    Simply put, if there isn’t enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed harassment, it can serve as a defense.
  7. Accidental Communication:

    If the defendant can prove that the communication was accidental and not intended to harass, it can be used as a defense.

These are just examples of possible defenses. Any successful defense must be specific to the allegations you are facing.

If you been charged with harassment in Tarrant County or a bordering county, give us a call at (817) 203-2220.

Varghese Summersett

Former President Donald J. Trump and 18 others were indicted in Georgia on Monday on accusations that they tried to overturn the state’s 2020 election returns.

The Georgia indictment marks the fourth time in as many months that a grand jury has handed up an indictment against Trump – all in different jurisdictions and stemming from different accusations.

In this article, Board Certified Criminal Attorney Benson Varghese explains Trump’s Georgia indictment and recaps his pending cases.

Trump's Georgia Indictment Explained [2023]

 

Trump’s Georgia Indictment: What You Need to Know

Trump’s Georiga indictment, returned on August 14, 2023, by a grand jury in Fulton County, includes 13 charges against Trump, as well as charges against 18 other Trump allies. They are alleged to be part of a “criminal enterprise” seeking to overturn the Georgia election results.

All face charges under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, a charge usually reserved for organized crime. Trump and his co-defendants have until August 25 to turn themselves in.

What is Racketeering? 

Racketeering refers to the act of operating an illegal business or scheme in order to make a profit, perpetrated by a structured group. It is most commonly associated with organized crime. The term “racket” originally referred to a scam or deception, and over time, it came to encompass a broader range of illegal activities.

The Allegation in Georgia Against Trump

The 98-page indictment details an alleged plan that commenced after Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential race. It alleges that those charged “refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump.

“That conspiracy contained a common plan and purpose to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in the state of Georgia, and in other states.”

The indictment alleges that Trump and his co-defendants used several schemes to try and reverse the electoral loss, including:

  • Making false statements to state legislators and other top state officials;
  • Generating fake Electoral College documents and recruiting supporters to cast false votes at the Georgia Capitol;
  • Harassing Fulton County election worker Ruby Freeman;
  • Corruptly soliciting senior Justice Department officials and then-Vice President Mike Pence;
  • Tampering with voting machines in Coffee County and stealing data.

Read the full 92-page indictment against Trump and his co-defendants here.

The Charges Against Trump

In total, Trump’s Georgia indictment accuses him of a total of 13 felony counts, including violating Georgia’s racketeering act, three counts of solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer; conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer; two counts of conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree; two counts of conspiracy to commit false statements and writings; conspiracy to commit filing false documents; filing false documents; and two counts of making false statements and writings.

Will the Indictment Stand?

Georgia’s RICO Act, GA Code § 16-14-4, makes it a crime through racketeering activity to acquire or maintain any interest or control of any enterprise. Prosecutors allege the actions of President Trump and others were to maintain interest in the enterprise of the Republican party. Beyond being an unprecedented use of the statute, the indictment reaches far to qualify the activity in question as racketeering.

Under Georgia law, racketeering includes false statements and writings or false lien statements against public officers or public employees in violation of Code Section 16-10-20 or 16-10-20.1. This in turn is the knowing and willful falsification of a material fact …in any matter…within any jurisdiction of any department or agency of state government or any other subdivision of the state. Another allegation of racketeering is the filing of the Certificate of Votes by Electors from Georgia was a forgery.

Expect numerous attacks on the indictment.

The 18 Co-Defendants Named in the Indictment

Trump and 18 others were accused of engaging in a “criminal enterprise” to keep Trump in power after his loss in the 2020 election. Here are the 18-co-defendants charged in the Trump Georgia Indictment:

  1. Rudy Giuliani, Lawyer
    Giuliana is accused of 13 counts including racketeering; solicitation of violation of oath by public officer; false statements and writings; conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer; conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree; conspiracy to commit false statements and writings; and conspiracy to commit filing false documents.
  2. John Eastman, Lawyer
    Eastman is accused of nine counts including racketeering; solicitation of violation of oath by public officer; conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree; conspiracy to commit false statements and writings; conspiracy to commit filing false documents; and filing false documents.
  3. Mark Meadows, Trump’s White House Chief of Staff
    Meadows is accused of racketeering and solicitation of violation of oath by public officer.
  4. Kenneth Chesebro, Lawyer
    Chesebro is accused of seven counts, including racketeering; conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer; conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree; conspiracy to commit false statements and writings; and conspiracy to commit filing false documents.
  5. Jeffrey Clark, Trump’s Justice Department lawyer
    Clark is accused of racketeering and criminal attempt to commit false statements and writings.
  6. Jenna Ellis: Lawyer
    Ellis is accused of racketeering and solicitation of violation of oath by public officer.
  7. Ray Stallings Smith III, Lawyer
    Smith is accused of 12 counts, including racketeering; solicitation of violation of oath by public officer; false statements and writings; conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer; conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree; conspiracy to commit false statements and writings; and conspiracy to commit filing false documents.
  8. Robert David Cheeley, Lawyer
    Cheeley is accused of 10 counts, including racketeering; conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer; conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree; conspiracy to commit false statements and writings; conspiracy to commit filing false documents; solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer; false statements and writings and perjury.
  9. Michael Roman, a Trump 2020 Campaign Official
    Roman is accused of seven counts, including racketeering; conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer; conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree; conspiracy to commit filing false documents; and conspiracy to commit false statements and writings.
  10. David James Shafer, a Pro-Trump “Elector”
    Sharer is accused of eight counts, including racketeering; impersonating a public officer; forgery in the first degree; false statements and writings; and criminal attempt to commit filing false documents.
  11. Shawn Still, a Pro-Trump “Elector”
    Still is accused of seven counts including racketeering; impersonating a public officer; false statements and writings; forgery in the first degree; and criminal attempt to commit filing false documents.
  12. Stephen Lee, a Police Chaplain
    Lee is accused of five counts including racketeering; criminal attempt to commit influencing witnesses; influencing witnesses; and conspiracy to commit solicitation of false statements and writings.
  13. Harrison Floyd, a Trump 2020 Campaign Worker
    Floyd is accused of three counts, including racketeering; conspiracy to commit solicitation of false statements and writings; and influencing witnesses.
  14. Trevian Kutti, Former Publicist for Kanye “Ye” West
    Kutti is accused of three counts, including racketeering; conspiracy to commit solicitation of false statements and writings; and influencing witnesses.
  15. Sidney Powell, Lawyer
    Powell is accused of seven counts, including racketeering; conspiracy to commit election fraud; conspiracy to commit computer theft; conspiracy to commit computer trespass; conspiracy to commit computer invasion of privacy; and conspiracy to defraud the state.
  16. Cathleen Latham: A Pro-Trump “Elector”
    Latham is accused of 11 counts including racketeering; impersonating a public officer; forgery in the first degree; false statements and writings; criminal attempt to commit filing false documents; conspiracy to commit election fraud; conspiracy to commit computer theft; conspiracy to commit computer trespass; conspiracy
  17. Scott Hall: Bail Bondsman
    Hall is accused of seven counts including racketeering; conspiracy to commit election fraud; conspiracy to commit computer theft; conspiracy to commit computer trespass; conspiracy to commit computer invasion of privacy; and conspiracy to defraud the state.
  18. Misty Hampton: Coffee County Elections Supervisor Hampton is accused of seven counts including racketeering; conspiracy to commit election fraud; conspiracy to commit computer theft; conspiracy to commit computer trespass; conspiracy to commit computer invasion of privacy; and conspiracy to defraud the state.

Trump's Georgia Indictment Explained [2023]

Racketeering – Georgia’s RICO ACT

A total of 41 charges have been brought against Trump and 18 co-defendants. While not everyone faces the same counts, all have been charged with the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. There’s a similar federal law on the books, which was originally designed to prosecute mob bosses who were leading complex criminal enterprises. RICO allows the government to go after all individuals of a corrupt organization.

Georgia’s version, which is one of the more expansive state versions, makes it a crime to participate in, acquire or maintain control of an “enterprise” through a “pattern racketeering activity” or to conspire to do so. Racketeering activity means to commit, attempt to commit – or to solicit, coerce or intimidate someone else to commit – one of more than three dozen underlying state crimes in Georgia law.

In this case, it basically allows prosecutors to weave together several alleged crimes — including conspiracy to defraud the state, false statements and writings, impersonating a public officer, forgery, computer theft, and others — into one charge that carries a punishment of 5 to 20 years in state prison. Georgia prosecutors will need to prove that Trump and his co-defendants were part of a criminal enterprise working together towards a command criminal purpose. 

Overview of Trump’s Criminal Cases

Trump has the distinction of being the first sitting or former U.S. president to face criminal accusations. Currently, he is facing four indictments on both state and federal levels. This is a brief breakdown of the four criminal cases against him. In every jurisdiction, Trump has entered a plea of not guilty.

1. Hush Money Payments (State Charges – New York)

On March 30, 2023, Trump was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury on 34 counts of falsifying business records. These charges stemmed from allegations that covert payments were made to a former adult film star in 2016. It’s alleged that these transactions were part of an effort to keep Stormy Daniels quiet about her claimed romantic involvement with Trump. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case. If found guilty of the felony charge of falsifying business records, Trump could face up to four years in a New York state penitentiary. Learn more.

2. Classified Documents (Federal Charges – Florida)

On June 8, 2023, Trump was indicted by a federal grand jury in Florida, accusing him of mishandling classified materials after he left the White House. Spearheaded by Special Counsel Jack Smith, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case, which includes 37 federal felony violations. Of the charges against him, the most severe could result in a maximum of 20 years in federal prison. Learn more.

3. Election Interference (Federal Charges – Washington D.C.)

On August 1, 2023, Trump was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington D.C. on allegations he attempted to subvert the 2020 presidential election and hinder the smooth succession of power. Between Election Day 2020 and January 6, 2021, it’s alleged that Trump led a widespread effort to challenge the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s presidential win. With his associates, Trump is believed to have spread misinformation about voter fraud, urged Republican officials in states taken by Biden to dismiss the outcomes, crafted fake elector lists, and leaned on Vice President Mike Pence to single-handedly overturn the genuine results. This series of events culminated on January 6, as a faction of Trump’s followers stormed the Capitol, disrupting the orderly handover of power. Special Counsel Jack Smith is at the helm of this case. Learn more.

4. Racketeering – RICO  (State-Charges – Georgia)

On August 12, 2024, Donald Trump and 18 associates were indicted by an Atlanta-area grand jury on accusations of attempting to reverse Trump’s 2020 election defeat in the state. While not everyone faces the same counts, all were charged with violating the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO – a charge usually reserved for organized crime. The indictment alleges Trump and his allies worked as a criminal enterprise and conspired to derail the Electoral College process and pressured Georgia officials to undo the election results. The case is spearheaded by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. If convicted of a RICO violation in Georiga, the defendant faces between five to 20 years in prison.

can trump still be president after the indictment

Can Trump Still Run for President?

Absolutely! The prerequisites for pursuing the U.S. Presidency are outlined in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. The criteria require that a candidate:

  • Is a natural-born U.S. citizen
  • Is at least 35 years old
  • Has resided in the U.S. for a minimum of 14 years

There aren’t any specific conditions that prevent Trump, or anyone else, from vying for the presidency even while under state or federal indictment. Interestingly, Trump has used these legal actions to bolster his presidential campaign.

Varghese Summersett

Campus Carry in Texas

Campus Carry in Texas refers to the legal provision that allows licensed individuals to carry concealed handguns on public college campuses. For campus carry, the handgun must be concealed and the person carrying the gun must have a license to carry.

Understanding the laws that apply to individuals on public university grounds is vital for students, educators, and the general public in Texas. The article is a comprehensive guide to gun laws as they apply to college and university campuses in Texas.

History of Campus Carry in Texas

Campus carry became legal in Texas on August 1, 2016. Originally this law allowed individuals 21 and older to legally possess handguns on college campuses with a license to carry. However, a federal lawsuit in Fort Worth extended that right to individuals 18 and older.

Does Campus Carry Apply to All Texas Colleges and Universities?

No. Campus carry applies to all public universities. It does not apply to private universities, although private colleges and universities may opt-in.

Campus Carry Status for Major Texas Colleges and Universities

Institution

Public/Private

Opted into Campus Carry (if private)

University of Texas System

Public

Campus Carry

Texas A&M University System

Public

Campus Carry

Texas State University System

Public

Campus Carry

University of Houston System

Public

Campus Carry

Texas Tech University System

Public

Campus Carry

University of North Texas System

Public

Campus Carry

Baylor University

Private

No

Southern Methodist University

Private

No

Rice University

Private

No

Texas Christian University

Private

No

St. Edward’s University

Private

No

Trinity University

Private

No

In fact, no major private college or university has opted into Campus Carry in Texas. The only private college to have opted in is Amberton University, a small nonprofit school in Garland.

Understanding Campus Carry in Texas

Campus Carry allows license-holders to have concealed handguns at public universities. A recent federal court decision found no basis to prevent 18, 19, and 20-year-olds from not being able to do the same, so now individuals over 18 who have a license to carry may conceal a handgun on their person at public colleges and universities in Texas. Still a very small fraction of university students have a license to carry in Texas.

Campus Carry Concepts

What is the Campus?

For purposes of Campus carry, “campus” means all the land and buildings owned or leased by the institution. This includes junior colleges, senior colleges, and universities. Campus carry does not include primary, middle, or high schools. It includes buildings and recreational vehicles, trailers, and campers that are being used as living quarters.

When did campus carry become legal?

In 2015, Governor Abbott signed Senate Bill 11 which codified the campus carry law into Section 411.2031 of the Government Code.

limitations on campus carry in texas

What rules can a public university or college set in regard to campus carry in Texas?

The college or university can set rules regarding the carrying of concealed handguns by license holders and the storage of handguns in dormitories and residential facilities – as long as they do not generally prohibit or have the effect of generally prohibiting license holders from carrying concealed handguns. For example, a university may not permit concealed carry at intercollegiate athletic events or spaces where K-12 programming is held.

Does campus carry allow handguns into classrooms?

Campus carry allows individuals with a License to Carry to carry handguns on campus, including in classrooms, if the handgun is concealed.

Where can a handgun be concealed?

A handgun may be concealed on or about a person. This includes a backpack or handbag as long as the license holder can reach the backpack or handbag without changing position.

handguns rifles campus carry in texas

Are rifles allowed with Campus Carry?

A License to Carry only allows the licensee to carry a handgun, not a rifle or shotgun. Therefore Campus Carry is limited to handguns.

Can you open carry in a college campus?

No. Although Texas passed Open Carry, it does not apply on college or university campuses. Open carry refers to the ability of a person who is 21 or older to carry a handgun in a holster without a permit openly. Learn more about open carry in Texas.

What happens if you carry a handgun on campus without a License to Carry?

If you don’t have a license to carry and you intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly possess a firearm on campus, you have committed a third degree felony pursuant to Penal Code Section 46.03.

Third degree felony in Texas
Third degree punishment range in Texas

What happens if a license holder intentionally displays the gun or open carries?

open carry vs campus carry in texas

 Texas Penal Code Section 46.035 says this is a Class A misdemeanor for Unlawful Carry of a Weapon – License Holder. Unlike most other situations, if you are at a college or university it does not matter if the gun was holstered or not. You cannot display it.

Class A misdemeanor
Class A Misdemeanors in Texas

Can I have a handgun in my car?

You can have a gun in you are 21 and otherwise legally able to possess a gun. The handgun should be holstered if you have a license to carry, or kept out of plain view if you do not have a license to carry. There are no restrictions on whether the gun can be loaded or not. There are also no restrictions on exactly where the handgun may be stored. There are no specific restrictions for rifles or long guns.

If you are between 18-20, you may be able to argue that recent rejection of age-based restrictions on being able to possess a firearm gives you the right to possess a firearm in your vehicle. For example, see DPS’s interpretation of the Firearms Policy Coalition, Inc. et. al., v. Steven McCraw, et. Al decision.

How old do you have to be to purchase a gun in Texas?

Under Texas law, you have to be 18 pursuant to Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 46.06(a)(2), (c).  Under federal law, you have to be 21 to purchase from an authorized dealer.

How old do you have to be to purchase a rifle?

Under Texas law, you have to be 18 pursuant to 18 – Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 46.06(a)(2), (c)

Other Resources:

Texas Castle Doctrine And Stand Your Ground

When You Should Call Us

If you are a student at UTA, TCU, or SMU who has been charged with gun possession, give us a call. There are serious charges that can disrupt your academic career and even leave you with a conviction or even face prison time. We have navigated these troubled waters successfully and are here to help. You can reach us at (817) 203-2220.

Varghese Summersett

A federal grand jury has indicted former President Donald J. Trump in the 2020 election interference probe, marking the third time this year that Trump has been criminally charged – all in different jurisdictions and stemming from different criminal accusations.

The latest indictment accuses Trump of conspiring to overturn the results of his unsuccessful 2020 election and block the peaceful transfer of power. The federal indictment, which was returned on Aug. 1, 2023, by a grand jury in Washington D.C., may be the most consequential.

In this article, Board Certified Criminal Attorney Benson Varghese Varghese explains the latest Trump election interference indictment, recaps all of his pending criminal cases, and answers frequently asked questions about these historic and unprecedented developments.

Election Interference Charges

Trump Election Interference Indictment

On August 1, 2023, a federal grand jury in Washington D.C. handed up a four-count indictment centered on Trump’s alleged efforts to discount legitimate votes in the 2020 presidential election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power. The 45-page election interference indictment charges Trump with:

  • Conspiracy to Defraud the United States
    This charge stems from allegations made by prosectuors that Trump repeatedly spread false claims about the November 2020 election knowing they weren’t true and allegedly attempted to discount legitimate votes. Prosecutors allege that Trump conspired with six others to “overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 president election.” The co-conspirators are not named or charged – as of yet.
  • Conspiracy to Obstruct an Official Proceeding
    This charge stems from accusations that Trump and his allies had an organized plan to obstruct the congressional confirmation of President Joe Biden’s election on January 6.
  • Obstruction of and Attempt to Obstruct an Official Proceedings
    This charge stems from accusations that Trump and his co-conspirators attempted to block Congress from confirming President Joe Biden’s election on January 6. This is the same charge brought against numerous rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol.
  • Conspiracy Against Rights
    This charge stems from allegations that Trump and his co-conspirators attempted to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate” people to stop them from enjoying their constitutional rights.

Read the 45-page indictment here.

What Led to the Trump Election Interference Indictment?

In November 2020, Trump lost the presidential election to Joe Biden. Prosecutors allege that he refused to accept his loss and pronounced that the victory was stolen from him. The turmoil resulted in a riot at the Capitol when Trump supporters stormed into the building and disrupted the congressional counting of electoral votes.

In between the election and the riot, Trump allegedly urged local election officials to undo voting results in their states, pressured Mike Pence to halt the certification of electoral votes, and falsely claimed that the election had been stolen. Among the lies, prosecutors allege, Trump claimed that more than 10,000 dead voters had voted in Georgia along with tens of thousands of double votes in Nevada. 

Who is Special Counsel Jack Smith?

Jack Smith, a veteran prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, was chosen to serve as Special Counsel in the investigations involving former U.S. President Donald J. Trump.

Smith was born in Clay, New York, on June 5, 1969, and his career in law began after attending State University of New York at Oneonta and later, Harvard Law School.

Shortly after graduating, he embarked on his legal career with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, eventually transitioning to a similar role at the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn. In November 2021, he received the appointment as Special Counsel, a role that tasked him with leading two crucial investigations involving Trump.

One investigation pertains to Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, including the events leading up to the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021. The second one scrutinizes Trump’s handling of classified materials, particularly the alleged retention of such materials at his Florida residence.

Trump’s Pending Criminal Cases

Trump is the first current or former U.S. president to face criminal charges. He currently is under both state and federal indictment. Here’s an overview of his three separate criminal cases. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges in all jurisdictions.

Hush Money

On March 30, 2023, a Manhattan grand jury indicted Trump on 34 counts of falsifying business records. These charges arise from allegations of hush-money payments made to a previous adult film actress in 2016. It is alleged that these payments were a component of a strategy to conceal Stormy Daniels’ assertions of having an affair with Trump.

The case is under the jurisdiction of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and a conviction for a felony charge of falsifying business records could lead to a maximum sentence of four years in New York state prison. Learn more.

Classified Documents

On June 8, 2023, a federal grand jury in Florida indicted Trump on accusations that he improperly handled classified documents after he left the White House. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, lead by special counsel Jack Smith, is prosecuting this case, which includes 37 felony violations. Among the numerous charges he faces, the gravest carries a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Learn more.

Election Interference

On August 1, 2023, a federal grand jury in Washington D.C. indicted Trump on four federal charges alleging he tried to overthrow the 2020 presidential election and obstruct the peaceful transfer of power.

In the two-month span between Election Day 2020 and January 6, 2021, Trump allegedly initiated an extensive campaign to invalidate Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. Trump, along with his team, allegedly propagated incorrect information regarding voter fraud, persuaded Republican state officials to discredit the results in states won by Biden, composed fraudulent elector slates, and pressured Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally reject the authentic results. This endeavor peaked on January 6, when a group of Trump’s supporters invaded the Capitol, interrupting the peaceful transition of power. The case is being lead by Special Counsel Jack Smith.

Are More Charges Expected against Trump?

It is anticipated that in the coming weeks, a prosecutor in Georgia will aim to secure a grand jury indictment in an ongoing investigation into Donald Trump and his Republican associates’ alleged efforts to reverse Trump’s 2020 election defeat.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis initiated the investigation over two years ago, soon after the public release of a January 2021 recorded phone call made by Trump to the secretary of state of Georgia.

Willis has significantly indicated that any potential indictment could be issued between Monday and August 18. It is expected that one of the two grand juries, both convened on July 11, will review the case.

If a Georgia grand jury indicts Trump, it would contribute to an expanding list of legal challenges he faces during his presidential campaign.

Which Case Will Go First?

The U.S. Constitution or federal law doesn’t stipulate whether a federal or a state case should take precedence or whether prosecutions should proceed in the order in which indictments were issued. Consequently, it’s unclear which case will proceed first. While federal cases generally progress more swiftly than state cases, the unique nature of these specific cases makes it hard to predict the typical course of events.

can trump still be president after the indictment

Can Trump Still Run for President?

Yes! The eligibility criteria to run for President of the United States are detailed in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. It specifies that the candidate must

  • Be a natural-born U.S. citizen
  • Be a minimum of 35 years old
  • Have been a U.S. resident for at least 14 years

There are no stipulations in place that preclude Trump, or anyone else for that matter, from making a bid for the presidency while being the subject of state or federal indictment. As a matter of fact, Trump has leveraged these criminal proceedings to further energize his presidential campaign.

Varghese Summersett

Unpaid Tolls in Texas: A Comprehensive Guide

As you travel the highways of Texas, you’re likely to encounter toll roads. In fact, Texas has hundreds of miles of toll roads. All those toll roads make many wonder what if they could get arrested for unpaid tolls in Texas.

Quick Answer: Can You Be Arrested for Unpaid Tolls in Texas?

You generally cannot be arrested for unpaid tolls in Texas, even if you are a habitual offender who has been banned from the tollway and continues to drive on toll roads. However, you can be arrested for failure to appear on a toll evasion citation if you 1) received notice of nonpayment in the mail, 2) fail to make payment, 3) receive a citation for Toll Evasion, and 4) then fail to appear for the citation in court or resolve the citation.

Toll Roads in Texas

Some of the most significant toll roads in Texas are:

  1. Addison Airport Toll Tunnel (AATT): The Addison Airport Toll Tunnel, with a length of 1.4 miles, is a toll tunnel in Addison, Texas, north of Dallas.
  2. Alliance Gateway Freeway (FM 1709): The Alliance Gateway Freeway is a highway in the U.S. state of Texas, maintaining a stretch from Interstate 35W to U.S. Highway 377.
  3. Camino Colombia Toll Road (SH 255): The Camino Colombia Toll Road, also known as Texas State Highway 255 (SH 255), is a toll road in Laredo, Texas, Webb County.
  4. Central Texas Turnpike System (CTTS): The Central Texas Turnpike System (CTTS) is a complex of toll roads in the Austin, Texas area.
  5. Chisholm Trail Parkway (CTP): The Chisholm Trail Parkway is a 27.6-mile toll road in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex.
  6. Dallas North Tollway (DNT): The Dallas North Tollway is a 30.2-mile controlled-access toll road operated by the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA), which runs from Interstate 35E near downtown Dallas, Texas, to U.S. Highway 380, in Frisco, Texas.
  7. Fort Bend Parkway: The Fort Bend Parkway is a toll road in the U.S. state of Texas, maintained by the Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority.
  8. Grand Parkway (SH 99): The Grand Parkway, designated as State Highway 99 (SH 99), is a highway in Texas, United States that opened its first section in 1994.
  9. Hardy Toll Road (HTR): The Hardy Toll Road runs from Interstate 610, near central Houston, to Interstate 45, north of Houston, just short of the Harris-Montgomery county line.
  10. Lewisville Lake Toll Bridge (LLTB): The Lewisville Lake Toll Bridge is a toll bridge crossing Lewisville Lake in the U.S. state of Texas, located entirely within Denton County.
  11. Loop 49 Tollway: Loop 49, also known as Toll 49, is a toll road that, along with I-20, encircles the city of Tyler, Texas.
  12. Mountain Creek Lake Bridge (MCLB): The Mountain Creek Lake bridge is a tolled causeway located in Dallas, Texas.
  13. President George Bush Turnpike (PGBT): The President George Bush Turnpike is a 52-mile toll road running through the northern, northeastern and western suburbs, forming a partial loop around Dallas, Texas, United States.
  14. Sam Houston Tollway (SHT): The Sam Houston Tollway, including the connecting Sam Houston Ship Channel Bridge, is a toll road in the Houston area, maintained by the Harris County Toll Road Authority.
  15. SH 130: State Highway 130, also known as the Pickle Parkway, is a highway from Interstate 35 north of Georgetown to US 183 south of Austin, Texas.
  16. SH 121/Sam Rayburn Tollway (SRT): The Sam Rayburn Tollway (formerly State Highway 121 Tollway) extends northeastward from Business State Highway 121 near Coppell to U.S. Highway 75 in McKinney, a total distance of more than 26 miles.
  17. SH 242: State Highway 242 is a state highway in the U.S. state of Texas.
  18. SH 249 Tollway: The State Highway 249 Tollway, also known as the Tomball Tollway, is a tolled section of State Highway 249 in Harris and Montgomery counties, Texas.
  19. SH 360 Tollway: The State Highway 360 Tollway, located in the Mid-Cities region of the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex in the U.S. state of Texas.
  20. Westpark Tollway (WPT): The Westpark Tollway is a limited-access toll road serving western Houston.

texas has hundreds of miles of toll roads

For many, a toll tag is a convenient method of payment, but what happens when these tolls remain unpaid? This article aims to clarify the legal implications and potential consequences of unpaid tolls in Texas.

Understanding Toll Tags In Texas

A toll tag, in the context of Texas, is a device attached to a vehicle’s windshield. It enables automatic deduction of toll fees when the vehicle passes through toll stations, offering a seamless driving experience. However, it’s essential to keep your toll tag account sufficiently funded to avoid any legal complications.

Legal Implications Of Unpaid Tolls In Texas

According to Texas law, specifically Section 370.177 of the Texas Transportation Code, failure to pay a toll can result in a criminal misdemeanor charge for toll evasion. If found guilty, the registered owner of the vehicle could face fines of up to $250 per unpaid toll, along with court administrative fees.

Consequences Of Habitual Violation

In Texas, a habitual violator is defined as a motorist who has not paid two or more toll violations within a year. If you fall into this category, you may face additional penalties, including being banned from the tollway.

Vehicles in violation can be ticketed and impounded. Moreover, habitual violators may face potential blocking of their vehicle registration renewal, adding another layer of complexity to the situation.

The Misconception: Can You Be Arrested?

A common misconception is that one can be arrested for not paying tolls in Texas. While it’s true that unpaid tolls can lead to legal issues, you won’t be arrested for the unpaid tolls themselves. However, if you fail to appear in court after being notified of toll evasion, this could potentially lead to jail time.

How To Pay Tolls In Texas

There are several options for paying tolls in Texas. These include the TxTag website and the Tollmate app, both of which offer convenient online payment methods. You can also pay in person at a TxTag Customer Service Center or by mail. It’s important to pay tolls promptly to avoid additional fines and potential legal complications.

Conclusion

While unpaid tolls in Texas may not lead to arrest, they can result in significant legal complications, including fines, impounding of vehicles, and potential jail time for failure to appear in court.

Varghese Summersett

Understanding Garrity Warnings and Their Role in Criminal Investigations

Garrity warnings play a crucial role in protecting the rights of public employees during internal investigations. This article delves into the nature of these warnings, their implications, and their role in criminal investigations.

Understanding Garrity Warnings

Garrity warnings are named after the landmark Supreme Court case, Garrity v. New Jersey (1967). They are designed to protect public employees from being compelled to incriminate themselves during job-related investigations. The typical Garrity warning informs the employee of their right to remain silent, but also that their silence could lead to job termination.

The Garrity Rule is Not Automatic

Unlike Miranda rights, Garrity rights are not automatically invoked. While some investigative agencies make it a point to provide them, they are not required to. As such, it is prudent for an attorney to request the warning on behalf of the person being questioned. It’s crucial for public employees to understand the nature of the inquiry they’re facing. If it’s a criminal investigation, they have the right to remain silent without fear of job loss. However, in an administrative investigation, refusal to answer could lead to disciplinary action, including termination.

compelled statements and garrity warnings

Implications of Garrity Warnings

The implications of Garrity warnings are significant for public employees. By invoking Garrity rights, employees protect themselves from self-incrimination in criminal proceedings. However, they must also understand that refusal to answer in an administrative inquiry could lead to job loss. The balance between these two outcomes is a delicate one, and understanding one’s rights is paramount.

Garrity Warnings and Criminal Investigations

In criminal investigations, Garrity warnings serve to protect the evidentiary value of an employee’s statements. By ensuring that statements are not compelled, investigators preserve their ability to use other evidence in a criminal proceeding.

Garrity Warnings vs. Miranda Warnings

While both Garrity and Miranda warnings serve to protect an individual’s Fifth Amendment rights, they are used in different contexts. Miranda warnings are given to suspects in criminal investigations, while Garrity warnings are given to public employees during internal, job-related investigations.

Context and Broader Implications of Garrity Warnings

The inception of Garrity warnings in the legal landscape marked a significant shift in the rights of public employees. It acknowledged the unique position these employees hold, straddling the line between public duty and personal rights.

Garrity warnings underscore the principle that no job requirement should force an individual to forfeit their constitutional rights. They serve as a reminder that while public employees have obligations to their roles, these obligations do not extend to self-incrimination.

Moreover, Garrity warnings have implications beyond the individual. They shape the conduct of internal investigations, guiding how investigators approach questioning and how they handle the information obtained. They also influence organizational policies, encouraging transparency and respect for individual rights within public institutions.

In essence, Garrity warnings are not just about protecting public employees; they’re about upholding the principles of justice and fairness in our public institutions. They reflect the delicate balance between serving the public and preserving individual rights, a balance that lies at the heart of public service.

Important Cases Related to Garrity Warnings

  1. Garrity v. New Jersey (1967): This landmark case established that compelled statements cannot be used in a subsequent criminal proceeding, protecting public employees from self-incrimination.

  2. Gardner v. Broderick (1967): This case further clarified that an employer cannot use a threat of discharge to coerce an employee into waiving their constitutional rights.

  3. Uniformed Sanitation Men Association v. Commissioner of Sanitation, “Uniformed Sanitation I” (1968) and “Uniformed Sanitation II” (1970): These cases established that an employee cannot be dismissed for refusing to incriminate themselves. However, if an employee’s statements are immunized from use in future criminal proceedings and they still refuse to answer, they can be discharged.

  4. Kastigar v. United States (1972): This case introduced the concept of “use/derivative use immunity”. This means that an employee may still be prosecuted as long as the evidence used against them does not include compelled statements or any evidence derived from those statements.

These cases collectively shaped the landscape of Garrity Rights, providing important protections for public employees during internal investigations.

How to Invoke Garrity Rights

Invoking Garrity rights involves a clear declaration by the employee during questioning. They must state that they are answering under direct order and that they fear job loss should they remain silent. This invocation should be made clear to the investigator.

How Varghese Summersett Can Help

At Varghese Summersett, we have extensive experience dealing with cases involving Garrity warnings because we have represented officers, deputies, and other individuals in law enforcement who were being investigated. We take an active role in protecting our clients’ rights, ensuring they understand the implications of Garrity warnings and how to properly invoke their rights.

Call Us at (817) 203-2220

Understanding Garrity warnings is crucial for any public employee. These warnings serve to protect your rights during internal investigations and can have significant implications for your career. If you need assistance navigating a situation involving Garrity warnings in north Texas, don’t hesitate to contact Varghese Summersett at (817) 203-2220 or online.

Varghese Summersett

The first hand shot up. “What are the laws about having a firearm in your car?”

Then another. “If you refuse a field sobriety test, doesn’t your license get suspended?”

A question from the other side of the room: “Do you have to call the cops if you get into an accident and someone is injured?”

Attorneys Benson Varghese and Ty Stimpson fielded these questions and more from TCU football players Wednesday morning after speaking to the team about staying on the right side of the law. TCU officials invited Varghese Summersett to come and talk to the team about mistakes that can potentially lead to legal trouble and the consequences of an arrest.

“You have to be more careful than the average Joe,” Varghese told about 100 players, which were gathered in the team room of the indoor practice facility on TCU’s campus. “You have a lot more at stake.”

Attorney Benson Varghese speaks to TCU Football Team

Varghese, a Board Certified Criminal Lawyer, discussed a wide variety of topics that he has seen first-hand from collegiate and professional athletes, including drug possession, intoxication offenses, gun crimes, and sexual assault allegations.

Varghese said one of the purposes of the talk was to make sure the players understand the law and their rights if they’re ever stopped or investigated by police. For example, he told them that they don’t have to consent to a field sobriety test, which are intentionally difficult to pass, just because the police ask.

“If they ask you to do a field sobriety test, you can politely decline,” Varghese said. “Put it on me. You can say, ‘Hey an attorney came and talked to the team and recommended I don’t do these tests. Sorry, I can’t.'”

Attorneys Benson Varghese and Ty Stimpson speak to 2023 TCU Football Team
Attorneys Benson Varghese and Ty Stimpson

Stimpson, who heads up the personal injury division of the firm, took a moment to talk to the team about how he was once in their shoes. A former linebacker at Baylor University, he said student-athletes often have “bullseyes on their backs.”

“There are a lot of people who cheer for you on Saturdays, but there are also a handful of people who want to see you fail,” Stimpson said. “That is why it’s important to be cognizant of your surroundings and appreciate the opportunities that are presented to you each and every day.”

Ty and TCU Assistant Athletic Diretor Kaz Kazadi. jpg
Attorney Ty Stimpson and TCU Strength Coach Kaz Kazadi

Afterward, Varghese and Stimpson opened the floor for questions, which ran the gamut. They discussed everything from the legality of having bullets in a vehicle to steps to starting a law firm. They were open to any and all questions by the athletes.

The meeting closed with both attorneys emphasizing the importance of making smart choices and avoiding situations and circumstances that could lead to potential legal trouble.

“You guys are already public figures,” Varghese said. “People are going to be paying attention to you. I hope you’ll never need us – that is a true sentiment.” 

Varghese Summersett staff stop by to speak to TCU Football Team
Varghese Summersett is a Proud Supporter of TCU Football (from left to right: Attorney Ty Stimpson, Intake Director Bresha Shepherd, Media Relations Director Melody Lanier, Client Relations Specialist Kayleigh Conley and Attorney Benson Varghese)
Varghese Summersett

Understanding Federal Target Letters

In the complex world of federal investigations, one of the most critical documents you may encounter is a federal target letter. This letter serves as an official notification from a federal prosecutor that you are under investigation for a potential crime. The receipt of such a letter can be a daunting experience, filled with uncertainty and anxiety.

I am a Board Certified Criminal Lawyer who has defended every level of federal offense. In this article, I will lay out a comprehensive guide on federal target letters, helping you navigate this challenging situation with confidence and informed decision-making.

What is a Federal Target Letter?

A federal target letter is a formal correspondence issued by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal prosecutor, indicating that you are the ‘target’ of a federal criminal investigation.

There are generally three parts to a federal target letter: the nature of the investigation, a statement of your rights, and often an invitation to testify before the grand jury.

A target letter outlines the nature of the crime you’re suspected of, the rights you have, including the right to legal representation, and often an invitation to testify before a grand jury or speak to a prosecutor. It’s important to note that while a target letter is a serious matter, it is not an indictment or a guarantee of one. It is, however, a clear signal that you are significantly involved in a criminal investigation, and immediate action is necessary. It is also very clearly putting you on notice that you are a target, not merely a witness the grand jury wants to hear from. 

DOJ Guidance for a Target Letter
DOJ Guidance for a Target Letter

Types of Federal Target Letters

In the realm of federal investigations, there are two primary types of target letters that you might receive, each with distinct implications and originating from different federal entities.

The first type is a target letter from a federal prosecutor, typically from the U.S. Department of Justice. This letter signifies that you are the ‘target’ of a federal criminal investigation. In this context, being a ‘target’ means that there is substantial evidence linking you to a crime, and the prosecutor believes they could indict you based on this evidence. This letter often outlines the nature of the crime you’re suspected of, your rights, including the right to legal representation, and may include an invitation to testify before a grand jury.

The second type of target letter is issued directly by the grand jury. This letter serves a similar purpose in notifying you that you are the target of an ongoing investigation. However, it’s important to note that this letter is typically issued when the grand jury has already been convened and is actively investigating the alleged crime.

Regardless of the source, both types of target letters are serious notifications that require immediate attention and appropriate action. They provide crucial information about your status in an investigation and the potential legal risks you face.

What is happening with Donald Trump and his most recent target letter?

Former President Trump has received a target letter from the Special Counsel investigating the events of January 6th. The target letter informs him that he is the target of a criminal investigation and presumably invites him to appear before the grand jury.

This is the third target letter Trump has received, and he has previously refused to testify in similar cases. The investigation is focused on Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and the mishandling classified documents in Florida. Prosecutors are likely looking into potential allegations of obstruction of justice, defrauding the United States, or witness tampering.

What happens if you are invited to testify before the grand jury through the target letter?

If a target letter invites you to testify before a grand jury, it means that the grand jury is interested in hearing your side of the story or any information you might have that could be relevant to the investigation. This is a serious matter and should be approached with caution.

While you have the right to legal representation when dealing with a federal investigation, it’s important to note that the rules within a grand jury proceeding are different from a typical courtroom setting. Specifically, your attorney is not allowed in the grand jury room during your testimony. This is a unique aspect of the grand jury process designed to maintain the independence and integrity of the jury’s investigation.

However, even though your attorney can’t be present in the grand jury room, they still play a crucial role. Before you testify, your attorney can help prepare you for the types of questions you might be asked, advise you on your rights, and help you understand the potential implications of your testimony. Additionally, while you’re testifying, you have the right to step out of the grand jury room to consult with your attorney as needed.

Given the high stakes and the complexity of the grand jury process, it’s essential to have experienced legal counsel guiding you through each step if you receive a target letter and are asked to testify before a grand jury.

Why You Might Receive a Federal Target Letter

Receiving a federal target letter is typically a result of being implicated in a federal criminal investigation. This could be due to various reasons, such as being linked to a crime through evidence gathered during the investigation, being named by a witness or another party involved in the crime, or your involvement in activities that have attracted the attention of federal law enforcement. It’s important to note that the issuance of a target letter doesn’t mean you’ve been charged with a crime. Instead, it’s a notification that you are under investigation and could potentially be indicted based on the evidence at hand.

Why would someone get a target letter instead of just being arrested?

A target letter is often used as a tool by federal prosecutors or investigators through the grand jury when they believe they have substantial evidence linking an individual to a crime, but they may not yet have enough to secure an indictment, they may still be building their case, they want to give the appearance of fairness. The target letter serves as a formal notification to the individual that they are under investigation, and it can also serve as an invitation to engage in the legal process, potentially by testifying before a grand jury.

There are several reasons why a prosecutor might choose to send a target letter instead of immediately seeking an indictment and arrest:

Investigation Stage: The investigation may still be in progress, and the prosecutor may be gathering more evidence to strengthen their case before proceeding with an indictment.

Negotiation: The target letter can serve as a starting point for negotiations. In some cases, the individual might choose to cooperate with the investigation, provide valuable information, or even agree to a plea deal.

Legal Strategy: In some cases, it might be a strategic move on the part of the prosecutor. By notifying an individual that they are a target, the prosecutor might induce them to take certain actions, such as making statements or taking steps that could potentially provide additional evidence for the prosecution.

Rights and Fairness: The target letter also serves to inform the individual of their rights, including the right to legal representation. This is seen as a fair and transparent way to handle investigations, giving the individual an opportunity to engage with the process and seek legal counsel.

The Difference Between a Target Letter and an Indictment

While both a target letter and an indictment are significant in the context of a federal investigation, they serve different purposes and carry different implications. A target letter is a notification from a federal prosecutor or a grand jury that you are the ‘target’ of a federal criminal investigation. It means there is substantial evidence linking you to a crime, and the prosecutor believes they could indict you. However, a target letter is not an indictment. It does not charge you with a crime; instead, it informs you that you are under investigation and could potentially be indicted.

On the other hand, an indictment is a formal accusation that initiates a criminal case. It is issued by a grand jury after they have reviewed the prosecutor’s evidence and determined that there is enough to charge you with a crime. An indictment moves the process forward to the trial stage, whereas a target letter is part of the investigation stage. Understanding the difference between these two is crucial in navigating the legal process.

What Happens After You Receive a Target Letter

Receiving a federal target letter is a critical moment in a federal investigation. It signifies that you are under serious scrutiny and that the prosecutor believes they have substantial evidence linking you to a crime. The first thing you should do upon receiving a target letter is to seek legal counsel. An experienced attorney can help you understand the implications of the letter, your rights, and the best course of action.

Your attorney can help you decide whether to cooperate with the investigation, which could include testifying before a grand jury. They can also begin preparing a defense strategy in case you are indicted. It’s important to remember that while a target letter is a serious matter, it is not an indictment. You have not been charged with a crime yet, and there are still many steps in the legal process where a skilled attorney can make a significant difference in your case. Your attorney may set up a proffer instead of testimony before the grand jury.

Does getting a target letter guarantee an indictment?

No, receiving a target letter does not guarantee that you will be indicted. A target letter is a formal notification that you are the subject of a criminal investigation, and there is substantial evidence linking you to a crime. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be formally charged or indicted. The investigation could conclude without charges, or it could result in charges that are different from what was initially suspected. The purpose of the target letter is to inform you of the investigation and to give you an opportunity to testify before a grand jury if you choose to do so.

Why most attornies will advise you not to testify before a federal grand jury under most circumstances

Testifying before a grand jury can be a high-risk situation for a number of reasons, and as such, many attorneys often advise against it. Here are a few reasons why:

No Attorney Presence: Unlike in a trial, your attorney is not allowed to be present in the grand jury room during your testimony. This means you won’t have immediate legal counsel to guide your responses or object to inappropriate questions.

Risk of Self-Incrimination: Without the immediate guidance of an attorney, there’s a risk that you might say something that could incriminate yourself, even unintentionally. Anything you say before a grand jury can be used against you in a subsequent trial.

One-sided Proceedings: Grand jury proceedings are typically one-sided. The prosecutor presents their case, and the defense does not have the same opportunity to present theirs. This imbalance can make it difficult for you to effectively tell your side of the story.

No Cross-Examination: Unlike a trial, there is no cross-examination of witnesses in a grand jury proceeding. This means that if you testify, your attorney will not have the opportunity to challenge or clarify the statements made by other witnesses.

Given these factors, many attorneys often advise their clients not to testify before a grand jury unless there are compelling reasons to do so. It’s a strategic decision that should be made in consultation with your attorney, considering the specifics of your case.

what to do if you get a federal target letter

What to Do If You Receive a Federal Target Letter

Receiving a federal target letter can be an alarming experience, but it’s crucial not to panic. The first step is to retain legal counsel immediately. An experienced attorney can help you understand the implications of the letter, advise you on the best course of action, and guide you through the subsequent legal process.

It’s important not to ignore the letter or delay responding. The target letter is a clear indication that you are under federal investigation, and any delay could potentially complicate your situation. Your attorney can help you craft a response, if necessary, and can also reach out to the prosecutor to gather more information about the investigation.

If the target letter includes an invitation to testify before a grand jury, your attorney will help you decide whether or not to accept. This decision should be made carefully, considering the potential risks and benefits. Remember, anything you say in front of the grand jury can be used against you in court.

Remember a federal target letter is a communication from a federal prosecutor to inform an individual that they are the target of a federal grand jury investigation. Being a target means the prosecutor intends to indict and charge the person with a federal crime. The letter is sent to prompt the person to either contact the prosecutor directly or consult with a lawyer who will communicate with the prosecutor on their behalf. It is also often an invitation to testify before the grand jury.

You should never call the prosecutor directly but instead, seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. We can provide counsel and guidance on how to respond to the letter appropriately.

Tips if You Receive a Federal Target Letter 

  1. Don’t contact federal agents or prosecutors about the case or testify in a grand jury without a lawyer: Federal agents and prosecutors are focused on building their case, not helping you. Anything you say to them can be used to strengthen their case, not yours.

  2. Don’t discuss the case with non-lawyers: Communications with non-lawyers are not protected by attorney-client privilege. Anything you say, even casual comments about making a mistake, could be used against you if the person you spoke to is called as a witness.

  3. Don’t alter or destroy evidence, or attempt to influence potential witnesses: Engaging in these activities constitutes separate crimes and will worsen your situation.

  4. If you receive a target letter, the first thing you should do is contact an experienced federal criminal defense attorney. Once you’ve hired an attorney, you should be completely honest with them about all the facts of the case that you’re aware of.

How Varghese Summersett Can Help

At Varghese Summersett, we understand the gravity of receiving a federal target letter and the anxiety that comes with it. Our team of experienced attorneys is well-versed in federal investigations and can provide the guidance and representation you need during this challenging time.

We can help you understand the implications of the target letter, advise you on the best course of action, and represent your interests in any interactions with the prosecutor or the grand jury. If you choose to testify, we will prepare you thoroughly, ensuring you understand the process, the potential questions, and the legal implications of your testimony.

In the event that you are indicted, our team will be ready to mount a robust defense on your behalf. We will scrutinize the prosecution’s evidence, challenge any procedural errors, and work tirelessly to protect your rights and your reputation.

At Varghese Summersett, we believe in proactive, aggressive representation. We understand the stakes in federal investigations, and we are committed to providing the highest level of legal counsel to our clients.

Varghese Summersett

During Texas’ 88th Legislative Session, lawmakers filed more than 8000 bills – only a fraction of which passed through the complex legislative process to become a new law. Not surprisingly, a good portion of the surviving bills pertains to criminal justice, creating new offenses or amending current statutes. Some of Texas’ new criminal laws make obvious sense, while others will probably leave you scratching your head. In any case, here’s the 2023 legislative update on 50 of the most interesting or impactful new Texas criminal laws.

1. Fentanyl Murder
HB 6: Effective Sept.1, 2023

new fentanyl murder law

In an effort to combat the fentanyl crisis, Texas lawmakers passed House Bill 6, which creates the criminal offense of murder for supplying fentanyl that results in a death; enhances the criminal penalties for the manufacturing or delivery of fentanyl; and requires deaths caused by fentanyl to be designated as fentanyl toxicity or fentanyl poisoning on a death certificate. Current law does not require such classification, as most fentanyl-related deaths as classified as an overdose. Among other things, this legislation makes:

  • Manufacturing or delivering fentanyl that results in an overdose death a first-degree felony punishable by 5 to 99 years or life in prison;
  • Manufacturing or delivering fentanyl, 200 to 400 grams, punishable by 10 years to life in prison and a maximum $100,000 fine;
  • Manufacturing or delivering fentanyl, over 400 grams, punishable by 15 years to life in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine;
  • Manufacturing or delivering fentanyl, under 1 gram, a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison;
  • Manufacturing or delivering fentanyl, 4 to 200 grams, punishable by 10 years to life in prison and a maximum $20,000 fine.

2. Giving Alcohol to a Minor Leading to Injury or Death
HB 420: Effective Sept. 1, 2023

alcohol to a minor leading to death

It is already against the law – a Class A misdemeanor – to provide alcohol to a minor in Texas. But now, if you provide alcohol to a minor and the youth consumes the alcohol and causes another person to suffer serious bodily injury or death, you face a state jail felony, punishable by six months to 2 years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine.

3. The Athena Alert
HB 3556, Effective Immediately

Athena Alert passed

The “Athena Alert” was named in honor of 7-year-old Athena Strand, who was kidnapped and killed by a FedEx delivery driver in December. The Athena Alert is similar to an AMBER alert, except it allows law enforcement to quickly activate an alert in a localized area – within a 100-mile radius and to adjacent counties – where a child goes missing without verification of an abduction. It essentially closes the gap between the time a child vanishes and a statewide AMBER Alert may be issued.

4. Statute of Limitations Extended for Family Violence
HB 467: Effective Sept. 1, 2023

new family violence laws in Texas

This legislation extends the statute of limitations for certain family violence offenses. In the past, prosecutors had two years to bring a misdemeanor family violence charge against an individual and three to bring a felony family violence charge. Now, prosecutors have three years to file misdemeanor family violence cases and five years to file felony family violence cases.

5. No Pets After Animal Cruelty Conviction
HB 598: Effective Sept. 1, 2023

limitation on owning pets after animal cruelty conviction
House Bill 598 is aimed at preventing people convicted of animal cruelty from acquiring more animals for at least five years. This law makes it illegal to have a pet or live in a house with a pet for five years after a conviction of animal cruelty – specifically dogfighting, cockfighting, attacking an assistance animal, or cruelty to non-livestock animal. The first violation of this new law is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine. A subsequent violation is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.

6. Boating While Intoxicated with a Child
HB 1163, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

It’s somewhat surprising that this law isn’t already on the books, especially since it’s already a crime to drive a vehicle while intoxicated with a child. House Bill 1163 extends that behavior to boats and watercrafts. In Texas, it is now a state jail felony to boat while intoxicated with a passenger under the age of 15. Boating while intoxicated is often referred to as a BWI. A state jail felony is punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine.

7. Illegal Voting is Now a Felony
HB 1243, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Texans take illegal voting seriously. Lawmakers made what was a Class A misdemeanor for casting a fraudulent ballot to a second-degree felony punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. Illegal voting includes things like voting when you are not eligible to vote, voting more than once in an election, and voting as another person.

8. No Tampering with Temporary Tags
HB 914, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Fraudulent vehicle tags are a problem in Texas, where they are often used in the furtherance of crimes, such as vehicle thefts, robberies, drug crimes, and even murders. This new law makes temporary license plates a “government document” and tampering with a government document is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4000 fine.

9. Doxing is Now Illegal
HB 611, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Doxing, also spelled “doxxing,” is a form of cyberbullying that has surged in popularity across the state and country. It refers to the act of spreading or posting private information about an individual without their permission to the public, mostly through the Internet, to harm, harass or get revenge. House Bill 611 criminalizes this type behavior by creating the criminal offense of “unlawful disclosure of residence address or telephone number.” It’s a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail and a maximum $2000 fine, to post an individual’s address or number on a publicly accessible website with the intent to cause harm or a threat of harm to the individual or a member of the individual’s family or household. The punishment can be elevated to a Class A misdemeanor if the offense results in bodily injury of that individual or their family member.

10. Unauthorized Possession of a Catalytic Converter
SB 224, Effective Immediately

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Over the past several years, catalytic converter thefts in Texas have been on the rise. To combat the problem, lawmakers passed legislation in 2021 making it a felony to steal, buy or sell stolen catalytic converters in Texas. Now lawmakers have taken it a step further by enhancing the penalties and also making it a crime to possess a catalytic converter that has been unlawfully removed from a vehicle. Unauthorized possession of a catalytic converter is a state jail felony, punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine. However, it can be enhanced to a third degree if the defendant has previously been convicted of the offense, was engaging in organized crime or possessed a firearm. The legislation is known as the Deputy Darren Almendarez Act, named after the late Harris County Deputy Sheriff Darren Almendarez who lost his life while trying to prevent a group of thieves from stealing his catalytic converter.

11. Refusal to ID While Driving
SB 1551, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Most people believe that you have to identify yourself to a police officer when they pull you over. This actually wasn’t the case – until now. Senate Bill 1551 requires drivers who are pulled over by police for an alleged law violation to give their driver’s license as well as their name, address, and birthdate when asked by police. If they refuse, they face a charge of failure to identify while driving, which is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine. However, if the driver gives a false or fictitious name, they face a Class B misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and a maximum $2000 fine.

12. New Family Violence Enhancement
HB 1589, Effective Sept.1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Assault bodily injury against a family member is generally a Class A misdemeanor. However, if the defendant has a previous conviction for violating a bond or protective order in a family violence case the punishment can be enhanced to a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.

13. Voyeurism Through Electronic Means
HB 2306, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Current voyeurism laws haven’t kept up with modern technology. House Bill 2306 updates current voyeurism law to make it clear that observing someone with the intent to arouse or gratify sexual desire without their consent using any electronic means, including drones or hidden cameras, constitute an offense.

14. Deep Fake Pornography
SB 1361, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

This bill creates a new offense, making it illegal to knowingly produce or distribute a “deep fake” video that appears to depict a person – without their consent – with their intimate parts exposed or engaged in sexual conduct. Producing or distributing deep fake pornography is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.

15. Elderly Abandonment and Endangerment
HB 2187, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

This legislation amends the Texas statute that protects children from abandonment and endangerment to include elderly and disabled individuals. Beginning on September 1, Section 22.041 of the Texas Penal Code will also include elderly and disabled individuals to the class of people protected by law from abandonment and endangerment.

16. Race to the Impound
HB 2899, Effective Immediately

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

This legislation expands a current law that allows law enforcement to remove from the road a vehicle that is being used to drag race and take it to the nearest impound lot. In the past, law enforcement could only take the vehicle if there was property damage or someone was injured. Now, law enforcement can impound any vehicle used in a drag race – regardless of whether there was property damage or bodily harm.

17. Possession of Forged Money
HB 1910, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

This law clarifies a law already on the books regarding counterfeit money. In the past, if a defendant had counterfeit bills, but had not yet passed them, he or she couldn’t be charged in proportion to the amount of counterfeit money seized. Now, they can be charged on the amount of forged money in their possession on the presumption that they intended to pass all of the forged money. For example, the offense for purchasing a pair of shoes with a forged $50 bill would be a class C misdemeanor. Even if the offender were carrying $50,000 in forged bills, they would only be able to be charged for the $50 they used. This legislation changes that so that the defendant would be prosecuted based on the amount of the bills in their possession, not passed.

18. No Drones Above Prisons
HB 3075, Effective Sept. 1, 2022

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Security concerns have been raised about the lack of restrictions on drones flying above correctional facilities. House Bill 3075 addresses these concerns by making it a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine, to fly a drone less than 400 feet over a correctional or detention facility; make contact with a correctional facility or detention facility; or come close enough to cause a disturbance. The offense is elevated to a state jail felony if the defendant used the drone to drop contraband.

19. Human Trafficking Near College Campus
HB 3553, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

College students are especially susceptible to exploration and trafficking. This legislation seeks to deter human trafficking and exploration on college campuses by enhancing the penalty from a second-degree felony to a first-degree for the offense of trafficking of a person on the premises of or within 1000 feet of a public, private, or independent institution of higher education. This offense is punishable by 25 years to life in prison.

20. Human Trafficking Near Daycares
HB 3554, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

This legislation seeks to combat the exploitation and trafficking of children near establishments that interact with children by enhancing the penalty from a second-degree felony to a first-degree for trafficking a person within 1000 feet of certain shelters or facilities, a community center offering youth services, or a child-care facility. This offense is punishable by 25 years to life in prison.

21. Retailers Can Send Shoplifters to TIPS Program
HB 2129, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Most large Texas counties have a Theft Intervention Program (TIPs) that allows first-time, low-risk shoplifters to participate in an education course in lieu of prosecution or as a condition of their probation. House Bill 2129 takes it a step further and allows retailers to offer a suspected shoplifter an opportunity to complete a theft education program in lieu of being reported to law enforcement.

22. Attacks on Texas Power Grid
HB 1833, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

In the past few years, there have been an alarming number of targeted attacks across the nation against the critical electric grid infrastructure, including in Texas. In an effort to send a message that Texans will not tolerate attacks on the state’s power grid, lawmakers increased the penalty for criminal mischief involving a critical infrastructure facility or public power supply. Defendants who cause interruption to the public power supply can face a third degree felony if the amount of pecuniary loss is less than $150,000; a second-degree felony if the amount of the pecuniary loss is between $150,000 to $300,000; or a first-degree felony if the pecuniary loss is $300,000 or more.

23. The Crackdown on Chronic Flashers
HB 1730, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Beginning on September 1, 2023, people who have previously been convicted of indecent exposure face harsher penalties for a subsequent conviction. If the defendant has one previous conviction for indecent exposure, he or she will face a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4000 fine (rather than a Class B misdemeanor for a first-time offense). If the defendant has two or more previous convictions for indecent exposure, he or she will face a state jail felony, punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine.

24. Prohibiting Offenders from Tracking Victims
HB 2715, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

In cases of domestic violence and stalking, it’s not uncommon for an abuser to try and track their victim. House Bill 2715 authorizes a magistrate to prohibit a defendant charged with an offense of family violence from tracking or monitoring an individual as a condition of bond.

25. Unauthorized Harvest of Timber
HB 1772, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Texas’ forest and logging industry is strong and the price of timber is on the rise, which has led to an increase in timber theft. In an effort to deter this crime, Texas lawmakers have passed legislation requiring additional information to be included in a bill of sale for timber purchases and enhanced penalties for fraudulent bills of sale.

The new law makes it a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $500 fine, for timber purchasers and sellers who either knowingly failed to provide the documentation required, or knowingly provided false information. If the offense was committed to conceal or attempt to conceal the unauthorized harvesting of timber, or the defrauding of a timber beneficiary, the offense would be:

  • a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to two years in a state jail and a maximum fine of $10,000, if the value of the timber was at least $500 but less than $20,000;
  • a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine if the value of the timber was at least $20,000 but less than $100,000;
  • a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine if the value of the timber was at least $100,000 but less than $200,000;
  • a first-degree felony, punishable 5 years to life in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine if the value of the timber was $200,000 of more.

26. Tampering With an Electronic Monitor
SB 1004, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

This legislation makes it a criminal offense for an individual – including a defendant on bond, probationer, or parolee – to knowingly remove or disable an electronic tracking device that is required for their location monitoring. In the past, it was only considered a technical violation to tamper with an electronic monitor, but now it is considered a crime.

Tampering with an electronic monitoring device is a state jail felony punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine. However, if the person is in a super-intensive supervision program, the offense could be elevated to a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison.

27. Child Grooming
SB 1527, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature
In an effort to further combat the sexual exploitation of children, Texas lawmakers passed a law making grooming a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. Grooming refers to an act of deliberately establishing a connection with a child in an effort to subject them to sexual abuse or human trafficking. The law makes it a state crime for an individual to knowingly persuade, induce, entice or coerce – or attempt to persuade, induce, entice or coerce – a person under the age of 18 to engage in sexual conduct or activity or be a party to the conduct.

28. Crime Lab Portal
SB 991, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Senate Bill 991 establishes a DPS crime lab online portal that processes requests for records and transmits them to the appropriate parties, including prosecutors and defense attorneys as part of the discovery process. In the past, crime lab records were managed independently and records were provided through the traditional paper-driven discovery process, which often led to delays when litigating forensic science.

Having a central computerized portal will increase efficiency and streamline the process of accessing and sharing crime lab records. This centralized approach will reduce delays in forensic science litigation and enable prosecutors and defense attorneys to obtain the necessary information for their cases promptly. The portal will also provide information on disciplinary proceedings applicable to a crime lab or license holder investigated by the Forensic Science Commission. It is mandatory for crime labs to participate in the online portal, unless exempted by DPS, or face disciplinary action by the Forensic Science Commission.

29. Updates to Criminal Background Check Requirements
SB 4123, Effective Immediately
New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

New federal requirements have been introduced for the use of criminal background check information by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). These requirements aim to improve the efficiency of the hiring and contracting processes while ensuring the security of private information. However, the State of Texas had not yet aligned its state law with the FBI criteria, causing confusion regarding the duties and responsibilities of entities in relation to this information. One area of uncertainty was in the statutes concerning the destruction of obtained information once it has served its authorized purpose. To address these issues, this bill provides updates and reorganization of the state’s criminal background check requirements. The bill clarifies the access and use of information as well as the obligations of relevant entities regarding this information and the established criteria.

30. Ban on Trans Collegiate Athletes
SB 15, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
assault on hospital staff

Senate Bill 115 attempts to combat the issue of unfairness in collegiate athletics by prohibiting biological males from competing against biological females on the opposing teams. This legislation requires collegiate athletes to participate only on the team in which their biological sex listed on their birth certificate aligns. It applies specifically to public institutions of higher education. In situations where a corresponding female team isn’t available, female athletes are permitted to compete on male teams.

31. Mass Shooting Definition and Enhanced Punishment
HB 165, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

This legislation enhances the criminal penalty for aggravated assault for an actor in the context of a mass shooting. The bill defines a “mass shooting” as an incident where a firearm is used with the intention to inflict serious bodily injury or death, and results in 4 or more injured people. House Bill 165 elevates the penalty for aggravated assault from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony, punishable by up to life in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. This legislation also requires sentences for crimes committed as part of the same event and punished as a first-degree felony to be served consecutively.

32. Modernized Notice to Crime Victims
SB 2101, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

The Texas Constitution provides victims of crime with the right, upon their request, to receive notice about court proceedings and the conviction, sentence, and release of the accused. This legislation modernizes these communications by providing an electronic delivery option when requested by victims, their guardians, or close relatives of the deceased victim. In the past, police departments and related agencies communicated this information to victims through traditional mail.

33. Increased Move Over or Slow Down Penalties
HB 898, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

This legislation requires drivers to either change lanes or reduce their speed to 20 mph below the posted speed limit when they approach emergency vehicles, law enforcement, tow trucks, utility service vehicles, TxDOT vehicles, or other construction vehicles with activated lights or signals on the roadside. Failure to comply will now result in tickets with increased penalties and fines. The legislation also authorizes the court to adjust the fines and court costs based on the circumstances surrounding each violation.

34. Expunctions for First-Time Minor Offenders
SB 1725, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Section 106.12 of the Alcohol and Beverage Code is currently interpreted by prosecutors to mean that a single offense involved in an alcohol citation can be expunged. However, individuals are commonly subject to multiple charges in one incident.

For example, if a college student were to receive public intoxication, minor in possession of alcohol, and open container violations all in one contact with law enforcement, the current interpretation would be to only allow the expunction of one of the three violations. This legislation will now allow first-time minor offenders with multiple violations stemming from one incident to expunge the entire incident from their record.

35. No Statute of Limitations for Burglary with Intent to Commit Sexual Assault
HB 2019, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

The current five-year statute of limitations for burglary of a habitation with intent to commit sexual assault poses a problem. Many rape kits collected at crime scenes remain untested for over five years. House Bill 2019 rectifies this issue by eliminating the five-year statute of limitations in first-degree burglary offenses when DNA has been collected. This ensures that offenders can still be charged, even if the rape kit was delayed or produced results that don’t match a readily identifiable person.

36. AI Child Pornography
HB 2700, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Concerns have been raised that current laws may not address new crimes involving the use of artificial intelligence to create sexually explicit visual material of a minor. House Bill 2700 addresses this issue by specifying that prohibited visual material includes a depiction of a child or a minor:

  • who was recognizable as an actual person by the person’s face, likeness, or other distinguishing characteristic, such as a unique birthmark or other recognizable feathers; and
  • whole images as a child younger than 18 years old was used in creating, adapting, or modifying the visual material, including computer-generated visual material that was created, adapted, or modified using an artificial intelligence application or other computer software.

37. Victims Rights: Family Access to Evidence
SB 435, Effective Immediately

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

After the Santa Fe school shooting, many victims’ loved ones wanted to view the evidence. However, due to current laws, there was a concern that permitting family members to view evidence would require that it also be disclosed to the public, including the media. This legislation rectifies this by authorizing a prosecutor to allow a family member to view certain evidence, including medical examiner reports and video evidence, without subjecting it to public disclosure.

38. Prioritizing Murder and Capital Murder
SB 402, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Murder and capital murder trials now must get priority on backlogged trial dockets. Under Senate Bill 402, trial courts are required to give preference to murder and capital murder cases when scheduling hearings and trials. This legislation was passed in an effort to cut down on the long waiting time for these most serious cases, which increases the chances for evidence to be lost, witnesses to disappear, and prosecutions to be impaired.

39. Obscured License Plates
HB 2195, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Drivers often violate laws requiring their license plates to be visible, which can be a hindrance to law enforcement, tolling authorities, and the general public. This legislation makes it an offense to attach or display a vehicle a license plate that has a coating, covering, protective substance, or other material that alters or obscures the letters, numbers, or color of the license plate. The punishment for obscuring a license plate is a maximum $300 fine unless the driver has a previous conviction in which case it is a maximum $600 fine. Two or more convictions elevates it to a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.

40. Possession/Promotion of Child Porn Now a 3G Offense
HB 1227, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Texas lawmakers have added possesssion/promotion of child pornography to the list of 3G offenses. A 3G offense is a special category of felony offenses in Texas that requires a defendant to serve at least half of their prison sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Additionally, a judge may not give a defendant straight probation for a 3G offense without a jury’s recommendation after a trial.

41. Leaking Judicial Opinions
SB 372, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Court employees who leak confidential opinoins or documents can now find themsevles behind bars. Leaking judicial opinions is now a Class A misdemeanor in Texas, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4000 fine. Under Senate Bill 372, a person commits an offense if a person, other than a justice or judge, who is involved in crafting an opinion or decision for an adjudicatory proceeding does not maintain confidentiality of all non-public judicial work.

42. Sale or Purchase of Shark Fins or Shark Fin Products
Senate Bill 1839, Effective Sept. 1, 2023
New Texas Criminal Laws | 2023 Legislative Update | 88th Legislature

Many people have never heard the term “shark finning,” which is the process where fishermen catch and slice off the top fin, sides, and tail of the shark while the animal is still alive. Afterward, fishermen dispose of the shark back in the water, where the shark dies. Shark finning is appealing to fishermen because shark fin soup is a traditional and often expensive delicacy served in restaurants across the world. Senate Bill 1839 criminalizes shark finning in Texas by making it an offense if a person:

  • fails to immediately destroy and discard a shark fin;
  • buys or offers to buy, sells or offers to sell, possesses for the purpose of sale, transports or ships for the purpose of sale, or advertises for sale, a shark fin regardless of where the shark was taken or caught; or
  • violates a proclamation or rule adopted under Section 66.2161 of the Texas Wildlife Code.

Shark finning is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine. However, it’s a Class A misdemeanor if the defendant has previously been convicted of shark finning in the previous five years.

43. Assault on Hospital Staff
SB 840, Effective Sept. 1, 2023

assault on hospital staff

Texas legislators approved a bill that strengthens the legal consequences for individuals who assault healthcare professionals in hospitals. Senate Bill 840, introduced by State Senator Royce West from Dallas, elevates the offense from a misdemeanor to a state felony, punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine. I

Varghese Summersett

Is it Illegal to Have Sex in Public in Texas?

Understanding Texas Public Lewdness and Indecent Exposure Laws

In Texas, having sex in public is illegal under the provisions of public lewdness and indecent exposure laws. Public lewdness is defined in the Texas Penal Code Section 21.07 as knowingly engaging in any of the following acts in a public place or where others are present and could be offended or alarmed:

  • An act of sexual intercourse
  • An act of deviate sexual intercourse
  • An act of sexual contact
  • An act involving contact between the person’s mouth or genitals and the anus or genitals of an animal or fowl

Texas public lewdness and indecent exposure offenses carry different but serious penalties.

Public Lewdness Charges and Penalties in Texas

Public lewdness charges are typically filed as Class A misdemeanors in Texas. If convicted, you could face up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. Additionally, a conviction can result in a permanent criminal record, potentially affecting your employment, housing, and other aspects of your life.

Defenses Against Public Lewdness Charges in Texas

Although facing public lewdness charges can be stressful, potential defenses are available. Some possible defenses include:

  1. Insufficient evidence to prove the elements of the offense;
  2. Mistaken identity or false accusation;
  3. The act occurred in a private setting where others would not reasonably be expected to observe it.

Each case is unique, and a skilled attorney at Varghese Summersett can assess the circumstances and develop a strong defense strategy tailored to your specific situation.

What is Indecent Exposure under Texas law?

Indecent exposure, defined under Texas Penal Code Section 21.08, is another relevant law when discussing sex in public. It covers several acts, including exposure of one’s genitals with the intent to arouse or gratify sexual desire and engaging in sexual contact in the presence of a minor (under 17 years of age) or a person who is unaware of the conduct.

Indecent exposure (or public indecency) is classified as a Class B misdemeanor, with penalties that include up to 180 days in jail, a fine of up to $2,000, or both.

Examples of Public Lewdness and Indecent Exposure Cases

Example 1: A couple is caught having sex in a public park. They could be charged with public lewdness due to engaging in sexual intercourse in a public place.

Example 2: An individual exposes their genitals to another person in a public restroom with the intent to arouse sexual desire. This act could lead to indecent exposure charges.

Defending Against Public Lewdness Charges

A skilled criminal defense attorney can help you fight public lewdness charges by examining the evidence and developing a strong defense strategy. Potential defenses include:

  1. Insufficient evidence to prove the act occurred in a public place or within view of others;
  2. Lack of intent or knowledge of the act being visible or offensive to others;
  3. Mistaken identity or false accusations.

At Varghese Summersett, our experienced attorneys will vigorously defend your rights and work towards achieving the best possible outcome if you’re facing Texas public lewdness and indecent exposure charges.

texas public lewdness and indecent exposure

FAQs: Texas Public Lewdness and Indecent Exposure

Yes, having sex in public in Texas is illegal and can result in charges of public lewdness or indecent exposure, or both.

Indecent exposure involves engaging in sexual acts in public places or while another person is present who might be offended or alarmed. Public lewdness covers a broader range of acts but also requires that the conduct occurs in a public place or while someone who might be offended or alarmed is present.

Public lewdness is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to \$4,000, or both.

Indecent exposure is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000.

To be charged with public lewdness, someone must have been present who could have been offended or alarmed by the act.

Public lewdness charges generally apply to acts occurring in public places or within view of others who could be offended or alarmed.

Yes, a public lewdness conviction can result in a permanent criminal record, affecting your employment, housing, and other aspects of your life.

Depending on the outcome of your case and your eligibility, it may be possible to have a public lewdness charge expunged from your record.

It is strongly advised to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you navigate the legal system and protect your rights.

Remain calm, do not make any statements to law enforcement, and contact an attorney as soon as possible.

Facing Texas public lewdness or indecent exposure charges? Call us.

If you or a loved one is facing Texas public lewdness and indecent exposure charges, you need an experienced Varghese Summersett defense attorney to protect your rights and fight for the best possible outcome.

We’ll assess your case and develop a tailored defense strategy. This may include arguing that the act was not in a public place or that others were not present or offended by the conduct. To discuss your case with a skilled attorney, call Varghese Summersett today at 817-203-2220 or set up a complimentary consultation online.