As of September 1, 2017, it is against the law to text and drive in Texas. That means no text messages, no emails, no Facebook, no Instagram. Nothing. Except you can use your phone if hands-free to play music, use GPS or contact emergency personnel. There are serious concerns involving smart phone use while driving, and the primary concern is that it is a clear distraction that causes accidents from fender benders to fatal accidents. If you were texting while driving, it'll automatically be assumed you caused the accident. You'll also be ticketed for the same. If someone died in that accident, then you could be facing other very serious charges, like criminally negligent homicide or worse: vehicular manslaughter, an offense with serious penalties.
This new law banning texting and driving will provide police officers with a new reason to stop and detain a person that leads to the investigation of other allegations such as driving while intoxicated, or possession of marijuana, possession of a dangerous drug, possession of a controlled substance, driving on a suspended license, etc.
You should know, however, that a charge is not a conviction. It is just an allegation. this law is ripe for people being wrongly accused even though they were not testing or otherwise using their phones in a way that was against the law. You should never plead guilty just to get the matter over and return to life as usual, because if you plead guilty, life will not be “as usual.” If you have no criminal record, you'll now have one. And that has serious consequences apart from the fee and -- depending if someone was injured or killed -- jail time. A criminal record can affect many different professions, especially those in the banking industry or careers that require a security clearance or professional license. A criminal record can also impact job applications or higher education applications and/or student loans, which is important if you are young and intend to go to college. And if you are charged with a felony, you can lose certain rights afforded to you by the U.S. Constitution.
The Law: Texting and Driving
Texting while driving is now illegal in the state of Texas as of September 1, 2017. The law targets drivers who are on their phones reading, writing or playing, basically the law targets any motorist who has a smartphone in hand and is doing something with it. The law does not target motorists who use their smartphones hands-free to play music, call someone, especially emergency personnel, or to operate the GPS for navigation. This law gives law enforcement a reason to stop people and arrest persons for other offenses they discover during the traffic stop.
The Penalties: Texting and Driving
Texting and driving is a misdemeanor in Texas, which means a conviction creates a criminal record. Anyone who violates this law could receive a fine between $25 and $99, and repeat offenders could receive a fine up to $200.
If you cause serious injury or death to another person(s) due to texting and driving, you could be fined up to $4,000 and spend one year in jail unless you are charged with criminally negligent homicide or vehicular manslaughter, both of which involve steeper fines and possibly longer incarceration periods.
The Defenses: Texting and Driving
A misdemeanor is a misdemeanor, it's not an infraction or a mere traffic ticket, but a criminal record. It's not harmless. You need to fight it. You should know that the State must prove that you were texting while driving, and that can be a difficult task.
Proving a Texting while Driving Violation
To prove texting while driving beyond a reasonable doubt, there should be some hard evidence apart from a police officer's testimony of what he saw, because what he saw could be any number of things but he or she assumed it was texting while driving. A police officer must have a search warrant to obtain your cell phone to check for recent activity, and to do that, they must have probable cause. Having your head down or knee on the steering wheel is not enough to suffice a search warrant.
There is what is known as the textalyzer, which is being tested by an Israeli firm, but to date, there are no other devices or mechanisms that a law enforcement agent can use to identify with some degree of certainty that you were texting while operating the vehicle. In fact, this is a common complaint among law enforcement agents throughout the U.S. who try to enforce similar laws but simply cannot because of the dynamics of the situation. Only in severe car crashes are officers often provided access to a search warrant to obtain a driver's phone and analyze it for texting while driving purposes.
In addition to these difficulties to obtain evidence of texting while, there are also some defenses that can be implemented into a defense strategy, if appropriate and applicable. Two such defenses include:
- Using a cellphone for an allowable purpose. If you were not using your cellphone to send a text message but instead were using it for a permitted purpose, then you were likely wrongfully charged with texting while driving. Permitted purposes include navigation, music, emergency calls, or possibly selecting a number to make a call, using the device's speak-to-write function, or, among other possibilities, operating the phone through voice commands.
- Using a cellphone while the vehicle was stationary. You must be operating the vehicle and using the cellphone at the same time, if not, then you may have been wrongfully charged with texting while driving. You can use your phone while at a traffic light or if not in a lane of traffic, but on the side of the road.
Though these are some good defenses to a texting and driving charge, only a smart, thoughtful and aggressive defense will ensure the outcome you want and need. The latter requires an experienced criminal defense lawyer to put together your defense strategy through a thorough investigation of the facts and smart application of the law.
Build Your Defense with an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
Doug Murphy has proven experience. He can help you build your defense to maximize chances of a successful outcome, which is: dismissal of all charges. With two decades of criminal defense experience, he has made a name for himself in Houston, Texas, and beyond. He is one of only two attorneys in the State of Texas Board-certified as a criminal defense lawyer and Board-certified as a DWI defense lawyer. His criminal defense accomplishments have been recognized by others, including those lawyers who attend seminars and conferences to hear him speak and teach them how to defend their clients successfully, too. Doug Murphy offers his clients:
- Thorough investigation of the facts, including accident reconstruction, if necessary.
- Resources to expend on expert testimony.
- Deep knowledge of the law.
- Comprehensive understanding of law enforcement and court system.
- Extensive experience in criminal defense that provides the insight that other less experienced or less thoughtful lawyers fail to have.
Things to Remember about Texting while Driving
- Keep your head up. Law enforcement are keen to look for drivers with their heads down and swerving, the combination indicates to them that the driver may be texting and driving.
- Texting at red lights is not unlawful, but poses risks apart from a citation. Texting at red lights means you are not paying attention, which could mean (1) you don't notice a car driving towards you; or (2) you don't notice the light turning green and if someone honks at you and you move on while still texting to finish what you were doing, then you can be pulled over.
- Use hands-free technology, like Bluetooth headsets or dictation functions and apps if you must “text” while driving. Though using the phone this way is still a distraction, it's not necessarily unlawful.
- For parents, if you don't want your child texting while driving, you can use an app to shut the cellphone down while he or she is behind the wheel. There are several apps including: Cellcontrol, DriveSafeMode, Lifesaver, Do Not Disturb While Driving, or Surete. They have similar blocking capabilities and others functions that distinguish them from each other. Researching each will help you determine which app works best for you and your family.
Remember: texting while driving is dangerous and has been proven to increase accidents, including fatal accidents. You should be mindful of this when driving. But if you are pulled over and cited for it, seek legal counsel. Doug Murphy can help protect your rights and keep your record clean.
Comprehensive, Resourceful Texting while Driving Lawyer in Houston, Texas
A citation for texting and driving is more than an annoyance; it's a criminal record in the making if not defended to prevent a conviction. At Doug Murphy Law Firm, we devote our resources and capabilities to defend our clients' rights. We have decades of proven experience and a reputation earned in the courtroom for successful results. Attorney Doug Murphy is a Board-certified criminal defense lawyer and a Board-certified DWI lawyer who not only fights on behalf of his clients but constantly gives back to the legal community to teach other attorneys how to do the same. Contact Doug Murphy online or at 713-229-8333 today to discuss the circumstances of your case.