Groups engaging in criminal activity have long been the focus of law enforcement agencies on the state and federal levels. Laws, such as the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO for short, target large criminal organizations and the profits these criminal enterprises generate.
On the state level, Texas enacted an organized crimes law to give prosecutors a weapon they could use against groups of people who engage in illegal activities. Title 11, Chapter 71 of the Texas Penal Code allows prosecutors to add an additional charge of engaging in organized criminal activity when three or more individuals join in certain illegal activities.
Types of Organized Crimes
Section 71.02 of the Texas Penal Code makes it a crime to engage in or conspiring to engage in organized criminal activity involving any of the crimes listed in the statute, including:
- Murder and capital murder
- Robbery and aggravated robbery
- Sexual assault
- Promoting prostitution
- Unlawful sale of firearms
- Unlawful manufacture or delivery of controlled substances or dangerous drugs
- Felony fraud offenses under chapter 32 of the Texas Penal Code
Texas prosecutors have the option to charge a person with one or more of the crimes listed in section 71.02 of the Texas Penal Code, and they can add a separate charge of engaging in organized criminal activity. For example, a person engaging in the crime of credit card or debit card abuse under section 32.31 of the Code can also be charged with engaging in organized criminal activity if the evidence shows that the suspect participate in the crime in the fraud with at least two other individuals.
Engaging in organized criminal activity is an effective tool for law enforcement and prosecutors because the criminal activity is the conspiracy or agreement to commit any of the many crimes enumerated in the statute. Even if the underlying crime does not take place, a person can still be charged with violating section 71.02 of the Texas Penal Code for conspiring to commit it.
Houston Organized Crime Sentencing Options
Because organized crimes in Texas separate offenses from the underlying crimes people are accused of conspiring or agreeing to commit, the penalties increase. For instance, if the underlying crime is a class A misdemeanor punishable by a jail sentence of up to 1 year and a fine up to $4,000, an organized crime charge increases it to a state jail felony punishable by up to 2 years in state jail and up to $10,000 in fines.
Defenses in Organized Crimes Cases
Organized crimes cases offer law enforcement and prosecutors the opportunity to pit one suspect against another in an effort to obtain statements that can be used in court to prove the agreement to engage in the unlawful conduct. Criminal defense attorneys frequently advise their clients not to make statements to the police and to exercise their rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to remain silent.
People under investigation in organized crimes cases rarely help themselves by talking to investigators. Usually, the best option is to remain silent and force the prosecutors to find other evidence to prove their case.