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

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 concern the Texas Penal Code, the Business and Commerce Code, the Alcoholic Beverage Code, and the Family Code. These new laws, and all Texas laws, 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.

HB 2577, Relating to the unlawful use of a criminal instrument or mechanical security device; providing a penalty. Texas Penal Code Section 16.01 is amended.
So, what exactly is a criminal instrument or mechanical security device? Any tool that is legal to buy or own, but is intended to be used in a crime. For example, owning an electronic lock-pick (like the kind used by a locksmith) is not a crime. But, using said lock-pick to break into someone else’s house is a crime. Under the new law, subsection (a) (1) states that a person who possesses a criminal instrument or mechanical security device with the intention to use in a crime can be charged. Penalty is one category lower that the offense intended. Subsection (a) (2) states a person who manufactures, adapts, sells, installs, or sets up an instrument or device to use or aid another person to use them can be charged. Penalty is a state felony.

SB 488, Relating to criminal background checks on users of online dating services and to disclosures of online dating safety measures; providing a civil penalty. Chapter 106 is added to Business and Commerce Code.

Finding someone special just got a little safer in the state of Texas. Under the new Internet Dating Act, providers must disclose to its members whether or not they conduct background checks, and whether or not they exclude or allow people with criminal records to utilize their website. When conducting a background check, online dating providers must check for any felony offenses, any sex offender registrations, and any convictions of family violence. Texas requires websites to provide a statement, or “Safety Awareness Notification”, that reminds members that background checks are not 100 percent fail-safe, criminals are able to manipulate technology, not all states make criminal records public, and the background checks do not cover foreign convictions and are limited to the three checks listed above. Websites that do not comply with the new law by September 1, and do not act in accordance with the law, are subject to civil penalties.

SB 1331, Relating to criminal offenses regarding the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages by a minor and providing alcoholic beverages to minors. Sections 106.04, 106.05, and 106.06 amend the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code.

A minor who drinks will find immunity when seeking medical assistance for another person. Under the new law, if a minor is the first one to call 9-1-1, remains on the scene, and cooperated with medical workers and police officers will not be charged. This is to encourage minors to seek help without fear of punishment. Furthermore, punishment for individuals who attend a party where there is underage drinking and/or forced/binge drinking are subject to 20-40 hours of community service, the suspension or denial of a driver’s license for 180, and the completion of a alcohol awareness program. “Enhances penalty for providing alcohol to a minor at a gathering that involved binge drinking or coerced drinking: community service, alcohol awareness course, driver’s license suspension.” (http://www.tabc.state.tx.us/public_information/notices/2011/summary-of-bills-2011.asp)

SB 1617, Relating to the discretionary transfer from a juvenile court to a criminal court of certain alleged offenses airing out of a single criminal transaction. Section 54.02 of the Texas Family Code is amended.
Changes to the juvenile court system will have direct impact on 14-17-year-olds charged with violent crimes. Under the former law, a juvenile court could decide to retain or transfer the charges to a criminal court. Once this decision was made, it could not be altered, even if circumstances changed. Under the new law, it would allow courts to reconsider the decision if new situations arose and allow the juvenile to be tried as an adult. As an example, if a 16-year-old was charged with attacking a person with a knife. The victim does not die immediately, and the juvenile in not charged as an adult. Before trial begins, the victim dies from complications from the knife attack. Under the old law, the court could not change its decision. Under the new law, the court could review its decision and determine that the juvenile should be tried as an adult. This law would only apply to charges of murder, capital murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, or intoxication manslaughter.

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.