New Texas Criminal Laws 2017
The regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature ended on Memorial Day. Bills not passed by the lawmakers and signed into law by the governor are dead in the water. (Abbott vetoed 50 of them.) For the bills that did not become law: well, maybe next year.
Governor Abbott has called for a special session to convene on July 18, 2017. That session will be limited to 20 issues listed on the governor’s agenda. The only big criminal matter on that list: the Texting while Driving preemption.
New 2017 Texas Laws
So for the most part, we know what the new laws for the State of Texas will be in 2017. Here are some of the major new laws that impact crime, criminal arrests, and criminal defense.
1. Police Protection Act
We discussed this new law last week in a separate post. See, “Attacks on Police in Texas are Hate Crimes under 2017 Police Protection Act.”
2. Sandra Bland Act
This law is dedicated to the memory of Sandra Bland. For her tragic story, read our discussion here.
The Sandra Bland Act is officially described as “relating to interactions between law enforcement and individuals detained or arrested on suspicion of the commission of criminal offenses, to the confinement, conviction, or release of those individuals, and to grants supporting populations that are more likely to interact frequently with law enforcement.”
The new law will require law enforcement officers to have education and training in handling confrontations with people so they can learn tools in calming things down and avoiding the kind of confrontation experienced by Sandra Bland when she was stopped.
Jailers will also be legally required to have training in mental health issues that their inmates may be suffering from (including depression or anxiety), and in the future, Texas jails will be manned with mental health professionals to help jail inmates with mental health needs.
Police must try in “good faith” to move those who are arrested for non-violent misdemeanor charges to mental health facilities or drug abuse centers. They are not to be kept with the rest of the general population at the jail if it can be helped.
Finally, if there is a death in a Texas jail, then that jail fatality must be investigated by an outside agency, not the jail itself.
3. Open Carry Knife Law: Bowie Knives and Large Blade Knives
Since 1871, it has been against the law in the State of Texas to carry a Bowie Knife or other large blade knives unless you were taking part in some kind of historical reenactment or an official ceremony.
The new law repeals this longstanding ban on Bowie Knives and other large blade knives.
Specifically, this new law amends Texas Penal Code Section 46.02 to allow people over 18 years of age in the State of Texas to open carry knives.
How? It removes the phrase “illegal knife” from the list of weapons which it is a crime to intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly carry onto certain premises, making it legal to carry a knife anywhere in the state. This includes:
- a knife with a blade over five and a half inches long;
- a throwing knife;
- a dagger, including a dirk, stiletto, and poniard;
- a Bowie knife;
- a sword; or
- a spear.
However, you cannot carry them into schools, jails, churches or other houses of worship, or establishments serving alcoholic beverages (bars) that get at least 50% of their revenue from selling booze. If you do, however, it is not a felony but a Class C Misdemeanor which has no jail time but a maximum sentence of a $500 fine.
4. Second Chance for First Time DWI Offenders
The new DWI law (HB3016) is officially described as “relating to the eligibility of a criminal defendant for an order of nondisclosure of criminal history record information.” It amends Texas Government Code Section 411.072.
It will allow those who are arrested and convicted of driving while intoxicated in the State of Texas (DWI) to seek a “non-disclosure” order that will limit the public access to that criminal record. So, for instance, any background check as part of a job application would not turn up the DWI conviction or any sentencing related to it, like an interlock on your car’s ignition.
Non-Disclosure Order for the DWI Conviction
So, the DWI Conviction is erased from the driver’s record – hence, the “second chance” for the convicted DWI driver.
It only applies to first-time offenders. The application can be filed two years after their DWI probation is completed, if they have had an ignition interlock. If no interlock was mandated, then they can apply for the “non-disclosure” order once five years has passed after their probation is completed.
It’s considered as giving a second chance to drunk drivers who are convicted of a single DWI and not caught driving drunk again for an extended time period. By using an ignition interlock, they can get that non-disclosure order much faster.
Big news for DWI Convictions: this law becomes effective on September 1, 2017, but it can be applied retroactively. This means anyone with a single Texas DWI Conviction on their record may want to investigate getting this “non-disclosure” for that DWI arrest.
And, of note, this new law is supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Texas Public Policy Foundation because it is seen as encouraging convicted drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock device.
Expungement of Criminal Records
A non-disclosure order is akin to an “expungement” of a criminal record but they are not the same thing. For more on expungements of Texas Criminal Records, see FREE EXPUNGEMENT OR SEAL OF TEXAS CRIMINAL RECORDS (FORMS AND MORE) BECAUSE EVERYONE DESERVES A SECOND CHANCE.
5. New Gun Laws: License to Carry Fees and Silencers
There are two new laws that support gun rights here in Texas. First, a new law (SB16) lowers how much it costs to get a License to Carry here in Texas. It applies to new licenses and to renewals.
Its official description: “relating to decreasing the fee for the issuance of an original or renewed license to carry a handgun.”
According to some reports, this will make the Texas License to Carry the cheapest in the nation.
Forty Bucks for License to Carry Permit
As of September 1, 2017, renewals of License to Carry Permits in Texas will cost $40 (they cost $70 right now). An initial permit will cost $40 as well (down from the current fee of $140). The License to Carry Permit will be valid for five years.
Owning a Silencer
Another law has been passed which amends Texas Penal Code 46.05. This second new gun law (HB 1819) provides state law protection to gun owners who buy sound suppressors for their guns. You may know these things as “silencers” if you watch much TV.
From the bill’s description: the new law will “allow firearm silencers to be possessed, manufactured, transported, repaired, or sold if they were classified as a curio or relic by the U.S. Department of Justice or if possessed, manufactured, transported, repaired, or sold in compliance with federal law.”
As the NRA explains, this new law jives state law to current federal law requirements for sound suppressors. It’s important because Congress may pass new legislation (the Hearing Protection Act) that would put Texas gun owners in the position of committing a federal felony if this new state law was not passed as soon as possible.
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