Hit and Run Penalties Are Tightened Up in Texas

The recent arrest of a 19-year-old in relation to an alleged hit-and-run accident that resulted in a death, highlights one of a number of amendments brought in last year that tighten up the criminal law relating to driving offenses in Texas.

The Dallas Morning News reported on how Lancaster police arrested Santos Quezada, 19, and charged him with an accident causing personal injury or death, a second-degree felony. He was reported to be a suspect in a fatal hit-and-run on Danieldale Road.

Police officers found 21-year-old Arin Stroops Thomas lying on the side of the road and he appeared to have been struck by a car. After media reports, they traced a vehicle they linked to the accident to the 19-year-old.

Last September a raft of new traffic and criminal laws were enacted. They included SB 275 which increased the penalty for leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident resulting in the death of a person and failing to render aid from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. The second degree felony now carries a punishment of between two and 20 years in prison and an optional fine not to exceed $10,000. A third degree felony carries a penalty of two to 10 years in prison and an optional fine not to exceed $10,000.

The Texas Department of Public Safety highlighted the changes in a press release.

“As a result of these new provisions, Texans now have additional protection while traveling our roadways, and individuals who disregard our laws will face tougher penalties for a variety of crimes,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw.

The changes included:

  • HB 347 which expanded limitations using cell phones in an active school crossing zone to include the property of a public elementary, middle, or junior high school for which a local authority has designated a school crossing zone. The restriction only applies during the time a reduced speed limit is in effect for the school crossing zone.
  • HB 1174 amended the law to increase the minimum fines for the misdemeanor offense of passing a stopped school bus loading or unloading children from $200 to $500, and the maximum fine for such an offense from $1,000 to $1,250. The bill also enhanced the penalty for a second or subsequent conviction for passing a school bus while loading or unloading children, to a misdemeanor punishable by a minimum fine of $1,000 and a maximum fine of $2,000.
  • SB 510 extended Texas’ move-over/slow down law that applies to emergency vehicles to stationary Texas Department of Transportation vehicles if their lights are activated and they are not separated from the roadway by a traffic-control device. Violators now commit a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $200; punishable by a fine of $500 if property damage occurs; or a Class B misdemeanor if the violation results in bodily damage.
  • HB 625 clarified the penalty for operating a vehicle on a public highway without displaying the two license plates assigned to the vehicle. The offense is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $200.
  • HB 3668 required a driver involved in an accident that is reasonably likely to result in the injury or death of a person to immediately determine whether anyone is involved in the accident, and if so, whether the victim requires aid, in addition to other existing statutory requirements.
  • HB 1284 increased the penalty for the offense of initiating, communicating or circulating a false report of an emergency (such as a bomb threat) involving an institution of higher education from a Class A misdemeanor to a state jail felony.
  • HB 2637 required that an individual fraudulently using identifying information to avoid registering as a sex offender to be punished at the next highest degree felony.

These recent changes increase the seriousness of certain offenses. It’s important to hire an experienced Dallas criminal defense attorney who is well versed in the amendments.

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.