Five Big Changes in Texas Criminal Laws
For Texas lawmakers, it’s all done now — the 2015 Legislative Session is finished, and for all of us Texans, now we deal with what happened down in Austin this year as the dust settles. The Texas Tribune has compiled a complete list of the new laws, civil and criminal, into an online list if you want to read through all of them.
5 Big Changes in Texas Criminal Laws
There were some big criminal law changes this year, which everyone needs to know about (including when they take effect) and there were some reforms that didn’t make it into law. Maybe next time. Here are some of the new laws that we think are really important (this isn’t a full list of all the new Texas criminal laws that were passed this year – not by a long shot).
1. Texas Open Carry Weapons Law (and Campus Carry )
Last month, there was a lot of hoopla over Governor Abbott signing into law both the Open Carry and Campus Carry bills. Some could argue that this new pair of laws that enables Texans to carry their sidearm openly in public is the biggest change in Texas criminal law this year. Maybe they’re right. It’s a big deal and a huge victory for the 2nd Amendment.
What this means is that citizens who meet certain criteria (over the age of 18, residing in Texas for at least 6 months, etc.) can openly carry a handgun hostered on their belt or in a shoulder holster. Additionally, if someone visiting Texas from any of the 41 other states who are licensed to carry in that state wants to open carry their handgun here, they can too.
One thing that didn’t make it into the final law: a provision that would have blocked the police from stopping someone carrying their handgun openly just to check their legal okey-dokey to carry. So, a police officer can stop someone with a holstered handgun on that basis alone. Expect them to be doing this.
If a business doesn’t want someone walking onto their premises with a handgun, then they have to post a sign that says open carry isn’t welcome. Which Whataburger has announced they will be doing: the burger chain doesn’t want its customers bringing handguns into their restaurants.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Texas open carry laws are not effective under January 1, 2016. OPEN CARRY IS STILL AGAINST THE LAW IN TEXAS UNTIL THAT EFFECTIVE DATE.
2. Funded Police Officer Body Cameras.
The Legislature okayed spending $10,000,000 for body cameras for local police officers. Covers a two year time period, and the police department has to match 25% of what the State of Texas funds. For more on how important body cameras on Texas police officers will be, read our earlier post, “Can You Trust the Police? Police Excessive Force and the Dallas D.A. List of Names.”
Read the new law here: SB158.
3. Changed How Grand Juries Get Selected.
This law is basically following along with other states are already doing. It ends the “key-man system” for picking grand juries in Texas. Effective September 1, 2015, grand juries will be picked the same way that trial juries (”petit juries”) are chosen.
This is a big deal because before this change, the grand juries were people selected by the presiding judge. Personally. Which from a criminal defense perspective meant that they were pro-prosecutor from the start. Now, grand juries are going to be filled with folk selected at random, which is a good thing. See, HB 2150.
4. Habeas Corpus Changes.
Two laws were passed that impact Writs of Habeas Corpus. First, a new law allows habeas corpus relief to those who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes based upon junk science evidence used by prosecutors. We’ve written about junk science before, it’s bad news. Unreliable stuff that should never be considered by a jury in a criminal trial. This new law means that if junk science does get before the jury, the convicted person has the ability to seek relief via a Writ of Habeas Corpus. Good thing. Effective NOW.
Additionally, another law mandates that in cases where the state agrees that a convicted defendant is entitled to petition for habeas corpus relief, that convicted petitioner gets a court-appointed lawyer to help them fight for justice. Effective NOW.
5. Truancy is No Longer a Crime.
For criminal courts, this helps to clear up dockets where there were lots of juvie cases for kids who weren’t going to school (they were truant). Both the kids, from K to 12, as well as their parents were subject to arrest under a Class C Misdemeanor for truancy until this law change. It’s something that has already been done in lots of other states, but it’s a big deal here and has received lots of media coverage. Breitbart called it “historic.”
Effective September 1, 2015.
What Didn’t Get Passed That Should Have?
Lots of things didn’t make it into law this year that lots of folk would like to have seen happen (like changes to the marijuana laws and altering criminal sentencing laws). However, perhaps the biggest disappointments were the failures to make new laws that targeted abuse and excessive force by police officers as well as the huge injustice of asset forfeiture (policing for profit).
Maybe next year.
For more information check our web resources or read some of Michael Lowe’s Case Results that include things like the one where the Court of Appeals granted writ of habeas corpus and the prosecutors were barred from retrying client based on prosecutorial misconduct.
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