Racing and Organized Criminal Activity

Street Racing Is a Crime

Texas, like other states, makes racing on a highway illegal. Some folks may claim surprise that street racing is illegal. After all, street racing has a rich history and culture in Texas and other states. Film and television depict that culture. Reality shows record the participants and their competitions. Yet racing on a highway, also known as street racing or drag racing, is exceedingly dangerous to the participants. It also endangers innocent others using the highways. That danger is why state legislatures make street racing illegal, and police pursue enforcement actions, in Texas and across the country. Street racing is alone a serious Texas crime.

Doubling Down on a Serious Crime

Prosecutors in Texas have a way of making street racing an even more serious crime, carrying even greater penalties. Texas prosecutors may claim authority under Texas Penal Code § 71.02 to treat participation in street racing as organized criminal activity. That Texas statute making organized criminal activity illegal substantially increases the penalty for the underlying crime. In fact, a conviction for organized criminal activity generally elevates the penalty by a full category, as further explained below. When prosecutors charge a street racer not just with the street racing crime but also with organized criminal activity, the defendant can face many more years of prison time.

The Definition of Street Racing

First, though, consider Texas's definition of and penalty for street racing. Texas defines the crime of racing on a highway by listing several different ways that street racers compete or show off their vehicle's speed or acceleration, and their ability to endure it. Any of those different ways of street racing is illegal. Texas Penal Code §545.420 states, “A person may not participate in any manner in:

  1. a race;
  2. a vehicle speed competition or contest;
  3. a drag race or acceleration contest;
  4. a test of physical endurance of the operator of a vehicle; or
  5. in connection with a drag race, an exhibition of vehicle speed or acceleration or to make a vehicle speed record.

The definition of a race may seem obvious. But in another list, the statute gives it the broadest possible definition. The statute defines a “race” as “the use of one or more vehicles in an attempt to:

  1. outgain or outdistance another vehicle or prevent another vehicle from passing;
  2. arrive at a given destination ahead of another vehicle or vehicles; or
  3. test the physical stamina or endurance of an operator over a long-distance driving route.

The definition of a drag race may also seem obvious. But once again, in another list, the statute gives it the broadest possible definition. The statute defines a “drag race” as “the operation of:

  1. two or more vehicles from a point side by side at accelerating speeds in a competitive attempt to outdistance each other; or
  2. one or more vehicles over a common selected course, from the same place to the same place, for the purpose of comparing the relative speeds or power of acceleration of the vehicle or vehicles in a specified distance or time.

What Is the Penalty for Street Racing?

The same Texas statute that defines the street racing crime, Texas Penal Code §545.420, also states its penalties. The basic street racing crime is a Class B misdemeanor. Texas Penal Code §12.22 makes a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. However, Texas Penal Code §545.420 increases that basic Class B misdemeanor penalty as follows:

  • to a Class A misdemeanor punishable under Texas Penal Code §12.21 by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine, if the defendant already had a street racing conviction, was intoxicated, or had an open intoxicant;
  • to a state jail felony punishable under Texas Penal Code §12.35 by between 180 days and two years in jail and a $10,000 fine, if the defendant had two prior street racing convictions;
  • to a third-degree felony punishable under Texas Penal Code §12.34 by between two years and ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine, if the defendant caused an individual to suffer bodily injury; or
  • to a second-degree felony punishable under Texas Penal Code §12.33 by between twenty years and two years in prison and a $10,000 fine, if the defendant caused serious bodily injury or death.

Texas Penal Code §545.420(i) also requires the police to confiscate the vehicle as evidence, if the street racing resulted in property damage or bodily injury. In that case, the owner must pay all removal and storage fees to retrieve the vehicle once police release it from evidence.

What Is Organized Criminal Activity?

Now consider how prosecutors may increase those already serious penalties by charging the street racer with organized criminal activity. Texas Penal Code §71.02(a) defines the crime of organized criminal activity as when a person commits or conspires to commit certain crimes “with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a combination or as a member of a criminal street gang….” The related statute Texas Penal Code §71.01 defines an organized-crime combination as three or more persons.

The organized crime statute Texas Penal Code §71.02 doesn't include the street-racing statute Texas Penal Code §545.420 in its list of qualifying underlying crimes. Murder, arson, robbery, sexual assault, and many other crimes do make that list of qualifying crimes. But the organized crime statute does include “unauthorized use of a motor vehicle” in its list of qualifying crimes. Prosecutors thus have an argument for charging street racers under the organized crime statute. When three or more persons get together to street race or profit from street racing, or in a street racing gang, they risk an organized crime prosecution.

How an Organized Crime Charge Increases the Penalty

Part (b) of the organized crime statute Texas Penal Code §71.02 states simply that a conviction under an organized crime charge increases the penalty “one category higher” than the most serious underlying offense that the defendant committed to qualify for the organized crime charge. Thus, if a street racer committed only the Class B misdemeanor form of racing on a highway, which would mean a first offense not causing injury, then an organized crime conviction would increase the Class B penalties to Class A misdemeanor penalties. Incarceration could increase from a maximum of 180 days to a maximum of one year. The fine could double from $2,000 to $4,000.

If the street racing crime was already the Class A misdemeanor form involving a second offense, intoxication, or open intoxicant, then the Class A penalties would increase to state jail felony penalties. Incarceration could double again from one year to two years, while the fine could increase from $4,000 to $10,000. If the street racing crime was already a state jail felony involving two prior offenses, then the penalties would increase to a third-degree felony punishable by up to ten years in jail with the same $10,000 fine. If the street racing crime was already a third-degree felony involving injury, the penalties could increase to a second-degree felony punishable by up to twenty years imprisonment. If the street racing crime was already a second-degree felony involving serious injury or death, the penalties could increase to first-degree penalties under Texas Penal Code §12.32 of five years to 99 years or life imprisonment.

Defending Street Racing Organized Crime Charges

If you or someone you know faces organized crime charges related to street racing, then know that skilled representation from Texas criminal defense attorney Doug Murphy may raise winning defenses. Just because three or more persons were present at a street race doesn't mean that they were conspiring to street race and thus were engaging in organized crime. Conspiracy, whether in its federal or state form, has its own technical definition—the vehicular activity, whatever its exciting form, may also not have qualified as street racing. The vehicle or vehicles may not have been accelerating or speeding. And the prosecution must prove each of the elements of both street racing and organized criminal activity beyond a reasonable doubt.

Get Premier Representation for Your Criminal Defense

The best thing to do if you or someone you know faces charges of organized criminal activity related to street racing is to retain Texas criminal defense attorney Doug Murphy. Fellow lawyers voted attorney Murphy as the 2021 Lawyer of The Year by Best Lawyers In America. Attorney Murphy knows vehicular crimes, including those involving intoxication and open intoxicants. Best Lawyers in America recently named attorney Murphy the 2021 Houston Lawyer of the Year for DWI defense. Attorney Murphy is also one of only two Texas lawyers holding both DWI Board Certification and Criminal Law Certification. You can do no better than to choose Texas criminal defense attorney Doug Murphy for your defense. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm online or at (713) 229-8333 to discuss your case today.

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