On September 1, 2015 new laws went into effect that dramatically changed the rights of defendants in Texas criminal cases. Specifically, House Bill 1396 was passed and put the following changes into law:
- Search warrants for cell phones
- Rule of Lenity Codified
- Priority docketing for crimes involving victims under 14
- Increased threshold in money limits for many offenses
The impact of these changes should be understood by anyone facing criminal charges in Texas. Here’s what these rules mean and how they are applied.
Search Warrants for Cell Phones
If a police officer believes you have stolen a cell phone, are a felony fugitive, or feels there is a life-threatening situation in progress (such as a kidnapping), they may search a cell phone without a warrant. They may also do so if you consent to the search. In all other cases, they will be required to obtain a search warrant before searching your cell phone. Under no circumstances should anyone arrested give approval to have their cell phone searched; even if you believe you have done nothing wrong.
The Rule of Lenity
This is an important change to Texas laws because it allows the court to proceed in favor of a defendant. This means if any statute or law is written in a manner that is not perfectly clear, the court is required to interpret the statute in a manner that is most beneficial to a defendant and not to the state.
Crimes Involving Children Under 14
Regardless of what type of crime has been committed, if the victim of such crime is under the age of 14, the case will get high priority in court. This particular change means the court shall take these cases on a priority basis with all other cases being put off until these juvenile cases are brought before them. This applies to any crime, including those crimes which are considered sexual in nature.
Monetary Limits Increased for Many Crimes
There are a number of criminal offenses which are classified by the amount of money involved. For example, petty theft was previously charged if the defendant was in possession of property valued in excess of $50; this has now been increased to $100. In addition, the difference between theft by check and theft of property has been removed from the statutes.
These changes are important if you are facing criminal charges because they not only impact your rights, but they may also impact your sentencing if you are found guilty of a crime. Make sure when you’re discussing an arrest with your criminal defense attorney that you understand how these new statutes impact the charges you are facing.
Any type of arrest is frightening. If you’re facing any type of criminal charges, it’s important to understand your rights and how any recent changes in the law impact the charges you are going to face, which in turn could impact your freedom. As a former prosecutor, Jeff Hampton has a unique insight in handling a broad range of criminal offenses. If you are facing criminal charges in Texas, contact The Hampton Law Firm immediately for a free and confidential consultation.