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Governor Perry Signs Several Laws That Will Impact the Criminal Justice System in San Antonio and all of Texas – Part I

The regular 82nd legislative session ended on May 30, 2011, and the following House and Senate bills will all take effect on September 1, 2011. The following summary of the laws concerning the criminal justice system will effect the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, which can be located at the Texas Constitution and Statutes website. As with all new laws, the changes made apply only to offenses committed on or after the effective date.

Misdemeanor Fines and Costs:
House Bill 27 amends the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Articles 42.15 and 45.041. This bill applies to defendants of misdemeanor cases who are unable to pay the full amount of the court fines and costs in one payment. When a judge declares the sentence in a case, under the old law the judge could either require the defendant to pay the entire amount of the fines and costs at the time of sentencing or require the defendant to pay the entire amount at a later date. Under the new law, the court has the authority to set-up a payment plan for a defendant. For many people, this will help alleviate much of the stress associated with a misdemeanor case.

New Conditions for Defendants Being Placed on Deferred Adjudication:
For defendants who are going to be placed on deferred adjudication community supervision, House Bill 1106 outlines information that the court must supply. According to amended article 42.12, the court must inform the defendant that they have the right to petition for an order of nondisclosure (i.e. sealing of records, as outlined in Government Code 411.081) if the defendant is eligible. The defendant is limited in pursuing a petition of nondisclosure based on the nature of the offense and/or the defendant’s criminal history. In addition, the bill also outlines the information that must be presented to a defendant in the event of a dismissed case. “A judge who dismisses the proceedings against a defendant and discharges the defendant” must provide a copy of the order of dismissal and discharge and inform the defendant of their right to nondisclosure.

Laws That Relate to Victims of Crimes:
Two of the bills have a more direct bearing on the victims of crimes. The first, Senate Bill 1010, requires the court to inform the victim, the guardian of a victim, or a close relative of a deceased victim that a plea bargain has been reached in the case. Victims were already notified about schooled court proceedings, changes to said proceedings, and motions for continuance. Amendments to Articles 26.13 and 56.08 state that the court must, before accepting the defendant’s plea of guilty or nolo contender, ask the state’s attorney if notice has been given to the victim.

The second, House Bill 1028, allows the court to prohibit the contact between the defendant of a criminal case who is convicted and the victim and /or the victim’s family as part of the sentence. The addition of Article 42.24 and the amendments of Article 42.032 in the Code of Criminal Procedure and Section 498.0042(b) of the Government Code state that, while in a penal institution an inmate cannot make contact in any form with their victim or their victim’s family. If the inmate does make contact, they can (under the discretion of the sheriff) lose their good behavior privileges. Furthermore, with the addition of Government Code 508.1531, parole boards may now take into account any contact when considering the release of an inmate. One concern that is not addressed in the new law is what happens when the victim (or family member) contacts the inmate first?

Pleas by Incarcerated Defendants:
In an effort to streamline proceedings, defendants in criminal cases who are already serving time in a prison (or other court mandated confinement) have more options when entering their pleas. With the passage of Senate Bill 1522, which amends Article 27.19, inmates can now enter their pleas by electronic or facsimile transmissions. Before accepting the plea, the court must verify that the person who sent in the information is the defendant named in the case or someone with the legal authority to act on behalf of the defendant.

The Law Office of Dayna L. Jones represents citizens arrested for criminal offenses in San Antonio, Bexar County and surrounding areas. If you have been arrested or cited for any criminal offense call 210-255-8525 today to set up a free initial consultation.