House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence Meets to Discuss Changing Criminal Penalties

March 26, 2021

Legislative News

  • Share this:

The Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence met on Monday to discuss 16 bills, many dealing with penalty changes for certain offenses. The slate included the following bills:

  • House Bill 239 by Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) – Relating to the punishment for certain controlled substance offenses committed in a drug-free zone; increasing criminal penalties.
  • House Bill 376 by Rep. Reggie Smith (R-Sherman) – Relating to the punishment for the criminal offense of improper sexual activity with a person in custody; increasing a criminal penalty.
  • House Bill 1509 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston) – Relating to enhancing the criminal penalties for certain repeat and habitual offenders.
  • House Bill 1086 by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) – Relating to the criminal penalties for certain criminal offenses.

HB 239 aims to address a disparity in the drug-free zone statute – currently, if an individual delivers certain amounts of a penalty group one controlled substance near an institute of higher education, that offense could be punished as a first-degree felony. However, if that individual committed the same offense near an elementary, middle, or high school – that offense would only be punishable as a second-degree felony. HB 239 would equalize the punishment, regardless of type of school adjacent to which the offense occurs. First Assistant District Attorney John Hoover of the 216th Judicial District (Kerr & Gillespie Counties) testified in support of the bill, stating that in addition to creating parity, the bill’s provisions add another punishment option available in these serious controlled substance offenses.

Under HB 376, the offense of improper sexual activity with a person in custody or under supervision would be punishable as a second-degree felony regardless of victim status (currently, that offense is only punishable as a second-degree felony if the victim is a juvenile in custody). Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne testified in support of the bill, stating that it is about professionalism and public trust: “When it comes to our facilities and our jails, every professional sheriff I know wants to have the safest, cleanest and most secure jail that they can have.” The companion is Senate Bill 312 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston).

Under HB 1509, if it is shown on trial of a Class A misdemeanor that an individual has been previously convicted at least four times of a Class A misdemeanor or above and each offense was committed within 10 years of the current offense, the penalty would be increased to a state jail felony. Chief Deputy of the Precinct 5 Constable’s Office (Harris County) Brian Harris and David Cook of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association testified in favor of the bill. Sen. Huffman filed the companion, Senate Bill 2007.

HB 1086 removes references to state jail felonies and replaces them with fourth degree felonies. Under this bill, offenses prosecuted as a fourth-degree felony would be punished in the same manner as state jail felonies, except individuals would be eligible for parole. HB 1086 also reduces the punishments for several controlled substance possession offenses. District Attorney Elmer Beckworth of the 2nd Judicial District (Cherokee County) testified in opposition to the bill, voicing concerns that offenders with substance abuse disorders would still need access to rehabilitative programs, such as SAFP, which they would have access to in state jail, followed by aftercare during probation. Rep. Moody has offered to work with Beckworth on his concerns.

All bills were left pending in committee. For the full list of bills heard on Monday, see here.

For more information on this article, contact Amy Befeld.