Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Houston DA Doesn't Think Change in Law Changes Anything

You might not be surprised to learn that Texans like guns. That doesn't mean we don't have some pretty strict gun laws here in Texas, though. The most commonly used is the "unlawfully carrying a weapon" statute which makes it a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, to carry a handgun on or about your person. There are a few defenses to this statute, however. These include the obvious--licensed to carry concealed weapon, engaged in lawful hunting, peace officer, etc. There is also a defense for a person who is "traveling." The problem is that traveling has never been defined by the legislature. This meant that the courts have come up with a sort of mish-mash of definitions for "traveling." So, this year, the legislature decided to create a presumption that a person is traveling if a few things apply--they are in a car, they aren't engaged in crime, they aren't a gang member, etc. The legislators intended the change to prevent needless arrests and charges against individuals who were traveling. But Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal and Rob Keppel, the head of the state's DA association, don't think the change in law changes anything. Rosenthal is telling law enforcement officers in his county not to change thier arrest policies for UCW cases one iota. According to Rosenthal, the new law still doesn't define traveling, and it is always up to a jury to decide. Now, on one hand, I have to say that Rosenthal is right when he says the law still doesn't define "traveling." Rather, it creates a presumption. On the other hand, it does seem as though he is clearly circumventing the intent of the legislation. And, of course, on the other hand (I know there isn't really a third hand!), the legislature has screwed up by not just providing a definition of traveling and creating the presumption. I don't know why I'm surprised by any of these things.

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