Thirteen Significant New Texas Criminal Laws Effective in 2023
Posted on by Michael Lowe.
Arrests in Texas can be based upon actions or investigations by either state or federal authorities or by a combination of the two in joint operations. From a criminal defense standpoint, the choice of law upon which the arrest is made is key.
This is because criminal cases move through two entirely independent justice systems – state or federal – with different rules of procedure and evidence as well as distinct laws defining crimes and their corresponding punishments. If you are arrested on violations of Texas law, things proceed through the state system. The process is very different for federal matters, where lawyers must be independently approved and licensed to practice before the federal bench. See, e.g., the Admissions Requirements for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Not all Texas criminal defense attorneys take federal cases.
And most importantly for the individual arrested, the results can be very different for those convicted of criminal acts depending upon state or federal charges. For instance, read our earlier discussions on how federal sentencing is very different from the Texas system as it involves the application of the United States Sentencing Guidelines which are not used in state proceedings:
- Heroin Trafficking in Texas and Federal Sentencing Guidelines;
- Methamphetamine Trafficking and Federal Sentencing;
- Federal Sentencing Guidelines: Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substance Cases.
Evolving Texas Criminal Laws: Creating New Crimes
Another important distinction between state and federal criminal prosecutions is that criminal statutes change quite often, depending upon both state and federal legislation (and court case decisions). New crimes can be created by law. This is why it is important to stop and take notice of significant Texas criminal laws that have been passed by the Texas Legislature, approved by the Governor, and enacted into law each year.
Things changes in criminal law much faster in state legislatures than they do in Congress. And Texas can be both pioneering and pushing the edge of the envelope in its enacting and prosecution of criminal law. For instance, Texas was the first state in the country to make it a felony for a john to seek out the services of a sex worker. Read, Buying Sex in Texas: Texas Is First State In USA To Make Solicitation Of Prostitution A Felony Offense.
And Governor Abbott’s directive to use the Texas Penal Code to prosecute smuggling along the Texas border has been debated as possibly exceeding constitutional limitations on what a state can do. See, Are Texas Anti-Smuggling Laws Unconstitutional? Governor Abbott and Texas Penal Code §20.05 and §20.06.
For 2023, it is reported that over 8000 bills were filed before the Texas Legislature during the last legislative session and from these thousands of proposals, 774 bills became effective law. Read, “774 new state laws take effect in Texas today, here are some notable ones,” written by Lucy Ladis and published on September 1, 2023 by NBCDFW.com.
2023: New Texas Criminal Acts
Among these hundreds of new state laws are the following criminal laws that impact the activities of anyone within the borders of the State of Texas. New crimes have been created. Search for the language of the following bills as well as their legislative history and other background information at the Legislative Reference Library of Texas site.
Of particular importance to those practicing criminal defense law in the Lone Star State is the new statute opening the door for state prosecutors to proceed on murder charges against those accused of providing a fatal dose of fentanyl to the person who has died from ingesting the drug.
Of course, fentanyl investigations are a big deal over in federal cases, but this 2023 law is an example of how Texas is pushing forward in its own criminal system in fighting the fentanyl use here. Read, Fentanyl Charges Under Federal Law: Felonies And Range Of Sentencing .
HB6 became law on September 1, 2023. The new Texas law makes it a state criminal offense constituting murder for supplying fentanyl that results in a death. It also boosts the state penalties for the manufacturing or delivery of fentanyl, while mandating that those tasked with completing the death certificate after the fentanyl overdose designate the cause of death as fentanyl toxicity or fentanyl poisoning.
Succinctly put, it defines fentanyl overdoses as “poisonings” and anyone who manufactures or sells the fentanyl involved in the overdose can be charged with murder. For more details on this from a criminal defense perspective, read our discussions in:
- Drug-Induced Homicide Prosecutions In Texas: Overdose Murders and
- Overdose Death Investigations: Criminal Defense Considerations – Can The Prosecution Make Their Case?
State prosecutors have been quick to bring murder charges based upon this new statute. After a fentanyl-related death this past September in Fort Worth, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office announced an arrest was made this month based upon the new Fentanyl Murder law. Read, “Grand jury issues first fentanyl-related murder indictment in Tarrant County,” written by Frank Heinz and Tahera Rahman and published by NBCDFW on December 14, 2023.
Human Trafficking Near College Campuses And Daycare Centers
Another expansion of state criminal law into areas within the established federal focus are two new statutes dealing with human trafficking in the State of Texas. See, e.g., Alien Smuggling In Texas: Federal Felonies & United States Sentencing Guidelines.
HB3553 and HB3554 create Texas first-degree felony charges for the trafficking of a person on the premises of or within 1000 feet of a public, private, or independent institution of higher education and certain shelters or facilities, a community center offering youth services, or a child-care facility. A Texas first-degree felony comes with the maximum punishment of life imprisonment and a minimum punishment of 25 years behind bars.
- For more on the range of felony punishments under state and federal law, read Felony Charges Under Texas And Federal Law: Criminal Defense Overview.
Assault on Members of Hospital Staff
SB840 makes the assault of hospital workers a state jail felony, punishable by a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years in a state jail as well as a maximum $10,000 fine. This legislation arose out of the October 2022 shooting tragedy at Methodist Dallas Medical Center and is known as the “Jackie Pokuaa and Annette Flowers Act.” Read, “Bill passed in response to 2022 Dallas hospital shooting heads to governor’s desk,” written by Fox4 Staff and published by Fox4KDFW on May 9, 2023.
Someone Injured or Dies After Minor Supplied Alcohol
HB420 makes it a state jail felony to give alcohol to a minor who consumes it and as a result, causes the death or serious bodily injury of another person. The maximum punishment for a state jail felony is 2 years in a Texas facility and a $10,000 fine.
For more on fatal drunk driving accidents, see Deadly Drunk Driving Accidents: Criminal DWI and Civil Injury Claims for Wrongful Death in Texas and DWI Accidents in Texas: Criminal Defense after Drunk Driving Crash Charges.
Child Grooming is a Felony in Texas
SB1527 has become Section 15.032 of the Texas Penal Code effective September 1, 2023. It defines child grooming as a third-degree felony in Texas. This crime involves an individual shown to knowingly (1) persuade, induce, entice, coerce, or (2) attempt to persuade, induce, entice, or coerce a person under the age of 18 either (1) to engage in sexual conduct or activity, or (2) to be a participant in such conduct. Grooming here is defined as building rapport or a relationship with the minor within the intent of subjecting the child to either sexual abuse or human trafficking.
Deep Fake Videos are a Crime in Texas
Texas is also recognizing the influence of artificial intelligence and its ability to commit criminal acts, specifically sex crimes. SB 1361 defines “deep fake videos” as a video created with the intent to deceive that appears to depict a real person performing an action that did not occur in reality.
It makes it a Class A Misdemeanor (with a maximum punishment of one year in jail) for anyone to knowingly produce or distribute a deep fake video where the person has been depicted without their consent and (1) their “intimate parts” (as defined in the statute) are shown or (2) they are shown engaging in “sexual conduct” (also as defined in the new statute).
With the rapid expansion of artificial intelligence, technology is now used to intentionally deceive and cause harm to others. Utilizing artificial intelligence and computer software to create “deep fake” pornography has become concerning to many. Deep fake pornography occurs when the likeness of one person is digitally altered to look like someone else and is inserted into a video in which sexual conduct is occurring or intimate parts are exposed. S.B. 1361 seeks to address this issue by making it a Class A misdemeanor offense for a person to knowingly produce or distribute by electronic means a deep fake video that appears to depict a person, without their effective consent, with their intimate parts exposed or engaged in sexual conduct.
Voyeurism with Electronic Device is a Crime in Texas
The 88th Texas Legislature passed more criminal legislation keeping up with technological advances with the passage of HB2306, which amends Texas Penal Code 21.17(a). This new law defines it a crime in Texas “…if the person, with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of the actor, observes, including remotely through the use of electronic means, another person without the other person’s consent while the other person is in a dwelling or structure in which the other person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Possession or Promotion of Child Porn Defined as 3G Offense
In Texas, “3G Offenses” are those listed within Article 42.12, Section 3(g) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure with defined legal consequences that include things like (1) not being eligible for parole until at least 50% of their prison sentence has been served and (2) no probation can been given by the court unless recommended by the jury after trial.
HB1227 has defined all crimes under Texas law that are related to child pornography (e.g., possession or promotion of child pornography) as being among these 3G offenses.
For more on child pornography laws, read: Sexual Performance of a Child: Criminal Charges under Texas Penal Code § 43.25 and 10 Things To Know About Felony Child Porn Charges in Texas.
Doxing is a Crime in Texas
Cyber-crimes, or criminal acts taking place on the web, are growing in number under Texas state law. This year, doxing became a crime here. Doxing has been explained as:
doxxing (sometimes spelled doxing) is a longtime hacker term derived from “dropping dox” or documents about an adversary. Motivations range from personal revenge to political ends. Some doxers act with the intent of exposing criminals or perpetrators of heinous acts. However, there are plenty of examples of people who have been wrongly doxxed and harmed as a result. For example, doxxing journalists can open them up to harassment and intimidation, and some activists publish addresses or private phone numbers of lawmakers to pressure them ahead of key votes.
Read, “What Is Doxxing?” written by Rob Lever and published by US News and World Report on December 16, 2021.
HB611 makes doxing a crime in Texas. It is considered to be a Class B misdemeanor offense involving “unlawful disclosure of residence address or telephone number” on a public website with the intent to cause harm, or a threat to harm, the person at that address or phone number harm as well as any member of that person’s family or household. This can mean six months in jail upon conviction. The punishment increases to a Class A misdemeanor if the doxing causes bodily injury for that person who was doxxed.
Flying Drones Near a Correctional or Detention Facility is a Crime in Texas
Drones are another evolving technology that the Texas legislature has addressed this year. For several years now, clever criminals have been using drones in all sorts of ways, either alone or together in “swarms.” See, e.g., “Criminals Are Now Using Swarms Of Small Drones To Befuddle Law Enforcement,” published by Futurism.
The new 2023 law arising out of HB3075 defines it as a crime in Texas to fly a drone near a correctional or detention facility. Specifically, it is now a Class B misdemeanor (maximum punishment six months jail time) to fly a drone (1) less than 400 feet over a correctional or detention facility; (2) to make contact with a correctional facility or detention facility; or (3) to lower the drone close enough to cause a disturbance at either type of facility.
The crime escalates to a state jail felony if the drone is used to drop something (“contraband”) into the facility itself.
Street Racing and Reckless Driving
HB1442 expands an existing criminal organized criminal activity statute to make street racing a form of illegal reckless driving. HB 2899 gives police the right to immediately remove and impound vehicles involved in street racing, takeovers, or other activities that impede normal traffic. Read, “Gov. Greg Abbott, in Fort Worth, cracks down on illegal street racing,” written by Lucy Ladis and published by NBCDFW on August 2, 2023.
Driver Identification When Pulled Over by Police
SB1551 makes it a crime in Texas for drivers to fail to provide law enforcement with your identification when pulled over for an alleged traffic violation. Drivers now must show their driver’s license as well as give their name, address, and birthdate or face criminal charges for failure to identify while driving. Give in to the temptation to give a fake name, and the crime increases to a Class B misdemeanor with a possible 6-month jail term.
To learn more about traffic stops in Texas, read 4 Shocking Texas Traffic Stops: Current Texas Law For Arrest After Pulled Over by Police.
Fake Vehicle Temporary License Plates
In North Texas, as well as the rest of the state, it had become commonplace for fake paper vehicle license plate tags to be used – which is technically a fraudulent act. It happened so much that Texas got the nickname “Paper Tag Nation.” For details, read “Texas DMV’s New Paper Tag Design Easily Counterfeited, Police Say,” written by Scott Friedman and Eva Parks and published by NBCDFW on March 27, 2023.
Which is why HB914 was introduced this legislative session and passed into law. This new statute makes it a crime to use fake vehicle license tags, defining the crime as tampering with a government document. This is considered a Class A misdemeanor (which upon conviction comes with a maximum sentence of one year behind bars).
Criminal Defense and the Creation of New Crimes in Texas
From a criminal defense standpoint, each of these new laws must be recognized as effective in Texas and that prosecutions are already being undertaken based upon these new crimes. Nevertheless, these new statutes are without judicial analysis since their ink is still fresh.
Some prosecutors may read these criminal laws too broadly. Some investigators may not comprehend the legislative intent and scope of these new statutes in their collection of evidence. Constitutional arguments may be applicable in some of these cases.
Moreover, some of these laws are dealing with evolving technology (drones, etc.). Criminal defense lawyers must be ready to defend with an understanding of these developments and their impact on the collection of evidence, the chain of custody in a case, and the scope of warrants for search and seizure.
For more, read:
- What is a Motion to Suppress?
- Examining Trials in Texas
- What is Probable Cause for Police to Arrest in Texas?
For more information, check out our web resources, read Michael Lowe’s Case Results, and read his in-depth article, read Sex Crimes in Texas: How Soon Do You Need to Call a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
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