Due to a mistake on the part of the Texas Legislature, the enforceability of the “no front license plate” statute is now in question. Since 1934, Texas law has required automobiles to have a valid front license plate. This offense was a class “C” misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $200. However,
a last minute change in the statute at the end of the most recent legislative session resulted in the punishment section of the statute being inadvertently stricken.
In essence, we now have a crime without a punishment. The bill’s author, Rep. Joe Pickett, has asked for an opinion from the Texas Attorney General as to the effect of this omission. Pickett, in what could be described as a thinly-veiled effort to minimize his gaffe, was quoted as saying “It doesn’t matter if there’s a fine or not, it’s still illegal, and you’ll still be pulled over.” However, the problem with Pickett’s analysis lies in the fact that, without a clearly defined punishment range, it is impossible to know what level of offense is alleged to have been committed. Is it a class “C” misdemeanor? If so, then jurisdiction lies in a municipal or a justice court. Is it a class “A” or “B” misdemeanor? In that case, a county criminal court or county court-at-law would be the appropriate venue. A felony, perhaps? Probably not, but the point is that because the legislature is now silent on the issue of punishment, we simply have no way of knowing where jurisdiction lies for this “offense.” Hence, a “no front license plate” case filed in ANY court would, at this juncture, be ripe for urging that the court lacks jurisdiction, inasmuch as jurisdiction has not been properly conferred on ANY court. If need be, Governor Perry could hold a special session of the legislature to address the issue.