With the close of the 82nd Legislative Session, close to 600 new laws hit the books in Texas on September 1, 2011. This article will focus on the new laws affecting DWIs and Drug Possession cases along with some other topics that I believe are important to address and be aware. Indeed, there were many changes in the legal landscape this year that affect the way certain cases should be handled by your lawyer and adjust our legal advice provided to the client. This post is by no means exhaustive of all the new laws effective 9/1/11.
Initially, we need to be caught up to speed with new laws affecting DWI cases. Many bills were introduced this session, but most didn’t make it all the way through to becoming law. If you read my blog regularly, then you know the most important new DWI law effective September 1st is the ability of the State to enhance a DWI 1st from a class B misdemeanor to a class A misdemeanor if the Court finds there was a Blood or Breath Alcohol Content greater than a .15. This greatly increases the reasons to always refuse a chemical test offered by the DWI cops. Another change worth noting from this new law is that it enhances an Intoxicated Assault offense to a Second Degree Felony if the Court finds that the victim suffered a traumatic brain injury. Other DWI related bills that did not become law include the ability to designate a DWI Roadblock and a bill that would have created Deferred Adjudication in DWI cases. This latter bill was actually a pretty poor idea. As many of you know, Deferred Adjudication typically means a person serves a period of community supervision (probation) and then the criminal charge is dismissed. The DWI Deferred bill that was defeated in the legislative committee was very different than what most of us think about when we think of cases receiving deferred. The offense still could have been used for enhancement purposes so that it really wouldn’t have been dismissed at all. Those of us lawyers who try many DWI cases still would have been trying these cases.
A couple of other DWI related bills regarding Drivers’ License issues were also addressed this past session. One minor change to the Transportation Code allows an issuing Judge the discretion to order drug testing when granting an Occupational Driver’s License. A major warning given to DWI suspects regarding the consequences providing or refusing to provide a breath/blood sample now admonishes that the officer may seek a search warrant for blood if the suspect refuses. This warning must be used with all DWI arrests occurring after September 1st, 2011. Click here to see the new DIC 24 “Statutory Warning”. Another Administrative License Revocation related bill was defeated in the legislative committee that sought to remove the probable cause requirement in Driver’s License hearings. Essentially, this bill tried to reduce even further the amount of proof necessary to permit DPS to suspend your Driver’s license. It didn’t happen.
Also, the legislature made a couple of new synthetic substances illegal to possess, manufacture or deliver. Spice and K2, which gained popularity as a synthetic marijuana, was quickly banned by the legislature (on April 20th). These substances now fall into the same punishment categories as pot depending on the amount or weight of the substance. Another synthetic substance that briefly enjoyed legal status was added by the legislature to Penalty Group 2 of the Controlled Substances Act. “Bath Salts” gained publicity the previous 8-12 months as many people discovered hallucinogenic and “speed” qualities from the chemicals inside these common household products. Manufacturers will now have to change their compositions in order to sell them in Texas or risk felony charges.
Some quick amended offenses worth noting include the right to now carry a firearm on a watercraft. Evading Arrest now includes watercraft to the State Jail Felony offense that up until only included motor vehicles. Maybe “Cops” and other TV shows will start showing “boat chases”. The possession of a “tire deflation device” is now a State Jail Felony. Although illegal in the Austin City Limits, Governor Perry vetoed a statewide Texting While Driving ban.
A topic that is important to anyone who has ever been arrested but not convicted is the right to an Expunction or a Non-Disclosure Order. The legislature removed some of the obstacles in securing these items by removing the statute of limitations waiting period in dismissed cases. The waiting period if you were never formally charged was also shortened, and even eliminated in cases where the prosecuting attorney certifies that the file is not needed any longer.
Links included in this blog direct you to other blogs I’ve written on topics within with more detail. Please feel free ask any questions you may have on any new laws mentioned or not mentioned herein!