By: Mark Diaz
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How Street Racing Can End in Serious Charges
There can be no doubt that Hollywood has attracted many to the need for speed through action-packed films that end with a victory lap and trophy for the winner. However, street racing is a crime in Texas, and it is one that police are cracking down on as the popularity of this dangerous activity increases.
Many people operate under the misconception that violations of Texas traffic laws will lead to a traffic ticket, possibly resulting in fines, points on your driving record, and/or surcharges. While street racing is certainly such a violation, you might be stunned to learn that it is a serious crime with harsh penalties. Plus, the enactment of a new law on drag racing in Texas means police will be cracking down on enforcement.
Once you realize the full extent of the criminal penalties and other implications, it is smart to consult with a criminal defense lawyer in Galveston if you have been charged with street racing. By getting an attorney involved as early as possible in your case, you can take advantage of defense strategies at each stage along the way. It may also be helpful to read an overview of how street racing can end in serious charges, criminal sanctions, and related consequences.
Basics of the Texas “Racing on Highway” Law
Knowing that street racing is a crime, you might expect that the state statute on drag racing would fall under the criminal provisions. However, the law is covered in sections on transportation matters, and it is entitled “Racing on Highway.” Some key points to note about the law include:
- It is a violation of the law to participate in a race, speed contest, acceleration competition, test of a driver’s endurance, or vehicle speed record event.
- There are important definitions to note on racing and drag racing. These concepts generally involve competitions to outdo each other in terms of speed, endurance, rate of acceleration, or other measurements.
- The statute allows local governments and municipalities to enact regulations on street racing, so spectators can face fines and other punishment.
- Due to the nature of drag racing, someone charged with violating the law will probably face numerous associated counts within the same case. Speeding, evading an officer, and resisting arrest are a few examples.
Penalties for a Street Racing Conviction in Texas
A first-time offender who is arrested for violating drag racing laws faces Class B Misdemeanor charges. If convicted, you could be sentenced to a maximum of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. As with other criminal offenses in Texas, street racing charges increase in severity under certain circumstances.
Class A Misdemeanor: If this is your second offense for the same street racing charge, or if this is your first offense and you were operating the vehicle while intoxicated (or if you simply had an open container in the vehicle), you could face charges for a Class A Misdemeanor. A conviction could mean up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000.
State Jail Felony: IF this is your third offense for street racing, then you could be charged with a State-Jail Felony. State Jail Felonies are punishable by a minimum of 180 days and up to 2 years in a State Jail, which is part of the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (“TDCJ”) and a fine up to $10,000.
Third Degree Felony: Drag racing is elevated if someone suffers bodily injury. Regardless of whether the victim is a driver, bystander, or occupant, if you’re arrested for this and someone gets hurt in the process, you could be charged with a Third-Degree Felony. For this level offense, the penalty range is anywhere from 2 to 10 years in prison (also known as TDCJ) and a possible fine up to $10,000.
Second Degree Felony: When a street racing incident leads to serious bodily injury to another person, you could be arrested for a Second-Degree Felony. The punishment range for this is no less than 2 years in TDCJ, but no more than 20 years, and a possible fine not to exceed $10,000.
Other Street Racing Charges: As mentioned, drag racing involves factors that often lead to additional charges. Police and prosecutors may charge someone with reckless driving, speeding, evading a police officer, DWI (or Driving While Intoxicated), Disorderly Conduct, and/or other related offenses in connection with the incident.
Impact of Texas New Street Racing Law
Legislators seeking additional action against drag racing recently passed a bill that provides enhanced penalties for convictions, and even a mere arrest can result in sanctions. Texas law has always allowed law enforcement to seize vehicles when they are considered an instrument of criminal activity. Usually, seizures are linked to drug cases, theft crimes, human trafficking cases, and DWI offenders with multiple convictions.
The new statute allows law enforcement to seize the vehicle from alleged street racers if there was any property damage or personal injury that occurred during the crime.
In some situations, police may even be able to seize the vehicle after the mere arrest, instead of after a conviction and after a person has either plead guilty or they were found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a key point because of two different standards: A prosecutor needs proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict, which is a very high legal burden. Conversely, for an arrest, law enforcement only needs probable cause that criminal activity is present – a much lower burden of proof than beyond a reasonable doubt.
Collateral Consequences of Drag Racing
The penalties for a criminal conviction are severe, but there are also non-criminal implications that you could encounter long after you serve your sentence. For one, keep in mind that street racing may not be limited to criminal charges. If you cause property damage, injuries, or death, the affected parties may go after you in civil court and by way of a civil lawsuit for monetary damages. Plus, your driver’s license will be subject to suspension if convicted of racing on Texas highways, impacting your personal freedoms and possibly your employment.
However, there are additional collateral consequences that result when you have a conviction for a misdemeanor or felony in your criminal record. The arrest and conviction will likely show up in a background check, and you might be required to disclose convictions in certain situations. For instance:
- You might face challenges with employment when you have a criminal conviction, but there can be immediate ramifications for your job if you cannot drive because of a suspension of your license.
- Criminal activity can lead to a revocation of any business or professional license you may hold.
- When you have been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors, you become ineligible to legally possess a firearm in Texas.
- You may not be able to vote in elections unless and until your rights are restored, specifically if you are convicted of a felony offense.
- There can be hurdles with obtaining a mortgage, auto loan, credit card, or other lines of credit.
- You could encounter issues with housing and education opportunities.
How the Police are Responding More Aggressively
Police departments are cracking down on street racing, the new legislation makes that clear. For example, officers are deploying unmarked police cars to infiltrate potential street races, which are generally and by nature kept quiet, in an attempt to deter the act of street racing. Other efforts to make street racing arrests and deter the crime by law enforcement include the installation of cameras in areas known for street racing in the past, constructing speed bumps, implementing street closures, and even the use of drones to deter the illegal activity.
What to do if Arrested for Street Racing in Texas
In an encounter with the police, your first priority should be exercising your constitutional rights. If police detain you, ask questions, or want additional information, you have the right to remain silent. Do not provide answers, offer details, or try to profess your innocence. Your statements can and likely will be used in court against you, and you might inadvertently make admissions that harm your interests.
Another constitutional right to exercise immediately is consulting with a criminal defense attorney. Your lawyer will develop a strategy for fighting street racing charges, which means you need to retain a lawyer who can best leverage defense opportunities at different stages of the criminal process. You will need solid advice and counsel for:
- Your arraignment or initial appearance, during which you will hear the official charges and enter a plea.
- Addressing issues related to bond, so you can be released pending your trial date.
- Conducting investigations and collecting evidence that favors your position.
- Filing motions to advance your interests, such as motions to exclude or compel evidence.
- Requesting that the court suppress certain evidence against you if it was obtained through unlawful search or seizure of law enforcement.
- Handling discovery, court appearances, and negotiations with the State.
- Representing you at a trial for street racing, which involves contesting the prosecutor’s allegations and presenting information to support your defense.
Count on a Galveston Criminal Defense Lawyer to Protect Your Rights
As you can see, the implications of a conviction for street racing are harsh. To ensure your rights are protected throughout the criminal process, retaining experienced legal representation is critical. For more information, please contact Mark Diaz & Associates, Criminal Defense Attorney, to set up a free case evaluation. You can reach our firm by calling (409) 515-6170. Our Galveston criminal defense attorneys serve clients throughout Galveston County and Greater Houston, so we are prepared to take on the legal challenges.
Mark Diaz & Associates is a Criminal Defense Law Firm in Galveston, Texas representing clients throughout Galveston, Chambers and Harris Counties including but not limited to Tiki Island, Jamaica Beach, Texas City, League City, Alvin, Algoa, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, La Marque, Bayou Vista, Bacliff, San Leon, Dickinson, Kemah, Bolivar Peninsula, Clear Lake Shores, and Friendswood.