After seven years of school and almost 10 years of practice, I still don’t know all of the criminal laws in the state of Texas. While most of the crimes in the State of Texas of are provided for in the Penal Code, some are scattered across the Government Code, Health and Safety code, Transportation Code, Agriculture Code, Occupations Code, the Water Code and others.
Many criminal statutes are common sense, “do unto others” Golden Rule type of prohibitions, while others are regulatory creations of the legislature. Whether they are common sense laws or legislatively created regulation, the punishments available under the law often surprise people.
Here is a list of ten felony offenses in the State of Texas that you might not have known carry such severe punishments:
10. Improperly Disposing of Car Oil
It is a felony offense to improperly dispose of used oil. A first offense for dumping oil in the sewer, mixing it with waste headed to a land fill, or dumping on the ground could result in a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $50,000.
While it is wrong to impersonate or intimidate someone, it might surprise people to know that when you do it online, in Texas, it can be a felony offense. Texas’s legislature has outlawed online impersonation if it is done “without obtaining the other person’s consent and with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten any person.” Creating a website or social media account, sending a Facebook message, or Tweet to someone in violation of this statute could land you in prison for two to ten years with a fine of up to $10,000.
8. Falsely Holding Oneself Out As a Lawyer
Most people know that it is against the law to impersonate a police officer. See Texas Penal Code §37.11. What surprises many people is that it is the same level offense (a third degree felony) to impersonate a lawyer. Texas Penal Code §38.122. Both laws require the state to prove that the offending person impersonated the peace officer/officer of the court with certain malicious intent (for profit, in the case of lawyers, and to obtain submission to authority in the place of public servants). A person convicted of either offense is looking at two to ten years in the penitentiary and a fine of up to $10,000. By the way, it is also a third degree felony to practice medicine without a proper license. Texas Occupation Code §165.152.
Don’t worry, your Halloween costume is (probably) still okay as long as you don’t go around actually trying to get people to think you are a police officer, firefighter, doctor… or lawyer.
7. Illegal Bingo
It might be okay if your nursing home does it, if they do it the right way: for folks over 60, and for nothing of value. It can be okay if you do it in the privacy of your home for fun (again, can’t win anything of value and make sure your following the law). But if you get together a bingo game in the State of Texas outside the bounds of the statute, you are may end up in prison for two to twenty years and have a felony conviction on your record.
6. Unlicensed Horse Racing
It is legal in Texas to horse race and dog race. Again, just make sure you have the proper license and follow all of the regulations. It is a state jail felony to violate the horse racing statute, and failing to properly comply with the rules could result in 180 days to 2 years imprisonment in state jail. Vernon’s Texas Civil Statutes Art. 179e §14.16.
While you are at it, the statute specifically prohibits unlawful touting. (“A person commits an offense if, with an intent to deceive and an intent to obtain a benefit, the person knowingly makes a false statement or offers, agrees to convey, or conveys false information about a greyhound race or horse race to another.”) Vernon’s Texas Civil Statutes Art. 179e §14.01.
Isn’t it kind of curious that the punishment for organizing an unlicensed horse race is less severe than the punishment for illegal bingo.
Illegal horse racing, and the prosecution of this crime is evidently a growing trend in Texas: http://www.kltv.com/story/26075133/kltv-7-investigates-illegal-horse-racing-growing-trend-in-texas
Next up, in the same vein:
Sure, this law is of no consequence to most, and sure, no one should cause domestic fowl to fight each other, but it is still a curious statute:
“A person commits an offense if the person knowingly: (1) causes a cock to fight with another cock.” Texas Penal Code §42.105(b)(1). (That’s what the law says, go read it.) In this statute, a “‘cock’ means the male of any type of domestic fowl.” Texas Penal Code §42.105(a). It is also a felony to “participate in the earnings” from such a fight. A person convicted of such an offense may face from 180 days to two years in state jail and a fine up to $10,000.
4. Bovine Related Felonies
We in Texas Love our burgers, steaks, and bar-b-que; we also love our ranchers who raise that good Texas beef that we put on our grills and smokers. So, the legislature has provided those who raise our livestock with special protection for their property.
It is a felony in Texas, punishable by prison time anywhere from two to twelve years, to alter a brand (“registered tattoo mark”) on livestock. Texas Agriculture Code §144.127. Cattle rustling, the sale, barter, or transportation of another’s branded livestock, is also a felony. Texas Agriculture Code §144.128. Theft of less than $100,000 of cattle (with no apparent minimum) is a third degree felony and punishable by two to ten years in prison. Texas Penal Code §31.03(e)(5).
3. Carrying a (Big) Knife into a Bar
In Texas, it is illegal to carry on your person a knife with a blade that is longer than 5 1/2 inches. If a person happens to walk into a bar, or other “premises licensed for the sale of beverages,” with a knife longer than 5 1/2 inches, that person could be prosecuted for a third degree felony (2 to 10 years penitentiary time and up to a $10,000 fine).
2. Delivery of a Controlled Substance
It is no surprise that it is against the law to deliver drugs.
What surprises many people is that it can be a felony level offense to give an adult friend or family member one of their prescription pain pills, cough medicine, or anxiety medicines. Alprazolam (Xanax) is a penalty group 3 controlled substance, so are certain codeine cough syrups and diazepam (Valium). When a person gives another person any of these, and just about any other prescription medicines, they are committing a felony under Texas law. There is, of course, an exception for a doctor or pharmacist lawfully dispensing drugs. The delivery of even one pill can be punished by up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
And don’t get caught with a pill outside of a bottle, you might get arrested for that as well.
1. Bank Slandering
It is a felony to slander or libel a bank or other financial association. Slander is the act of making a false spoken statement, libel is when the false statement is in writing. It is generally not a crime to slander or libel a person, though it may subject you to a civil suit. But, if you slander a financial institution, it could land you in state jail for up to two years with a felony conviction on your record. I could not find an instance where anyone was actually prosecuted under this statute.
Nothing in this post is intended to constitute legal advice. If you have a question about the law, you should consult a lawyer.
Photo credits:Oil (Skitter Photo via finda.photo); Keyboard (Jaroslaw Puszcyznski via stocksnap.io); Suit and tie (Ben Rossett via stocksnap.io); Bingo (wikimedia commons); Horse Racing (Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com); Rooster (Paulo Morales via Unsplash via finda.photo); Cattle (Ryan McGuire via stocksnap.io); Knights (wikimedia commons); Bank (Dave Meier via stocksnap.io)