Improper Influence: Texas Penal Code §36.04

Texas Criminal Law

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The Texas Improper Influence law essentially prohibits ex parte communications with judges and other public servants that fall short of bribery in an attempt to obstruct the fair administration of justice.

The statute appears targeted at communications with judges, but the statutory text uses the term “public servant,” so it is not limited to judges.

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The Texas legislature codified this criminal offense in Texas Penal Code Section 36.04. The legislature did not update this law in 2023. In fact, this law has not been amended since 1994.

The Penal Code codifies the Texas Improper Influence law under Title 8 “Offenses Against Public Administration,” Chapter 36 “Bribery And Corrupt Influence.” Learn more about the Texas offense of Improper Influence below.

What is the current Texas law about Improper Influence?

The current Texas law defines the offense of Improper Influence in Penal Code Section §36.04 as follows:[1]

(a) A person commits an offense if he privately addresses a representation, entreaty, argument, or other communication to any public servant who exercises or will exercise official discretion in an adjudicatory proceeding with an intent to influence the outcome of the proceeding on the basis of considerations other than those authorized by law.

Very few states have a crime similar to Improper Influence, and as a result, there’s not a lot of clarity on the breadth of the law. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals examined the Improper Influence statute in Alfred Isassi v. The State of Texas. In that case, the court looked to the Model Penal Code for guidance on what the Improper Influence statute was supposed to cover. The court held that one clear-cut application of the law was that “An elected official may not manipulate and influence the judicial system to help a family member avoid conditions of pretrial supervision and prosecution for a felony.”[2]

How can I be charged with an Improper Influence offense in Texas?

You can be charged with Improper Influence in Texas if the state’s attorneys believe that each of the elements of 36.04(a) as described in the section above have been met.

What is the statute of limitation for Improper Influence in Texas?

As a misdemeanor, Improper Influence charges have a two-year limitations period.[3]

What is the penalty for a Texas Improper Influence offense?

A conviction for Improper Influence in Texas is punished as a Class A misdemeanor,[4] with a maximum possible fine under Texas state law of up to $4,000 and jail time of up to one year. Learn about the differences between grades of felonies and misdemeanors here.

Can you get probation for Improper Influence in Texas?

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure allows both judges and juries to grant probation for Improper Influence, and judges are also allowed to accept deferred adjudication plea deals.[5]

What level of crime is Improper Influence in Texas?

The Penal Code classifies the punishment for Improper Influence as a Class A misdemeanor.

Learn more about the penalty range for this offense in the section above.

^1. Texas Penal Code §36.04. This law is current as of the 88th Legislature Regular Session.^2. Alfred Isassi v. The State of Texas^3. See Code of Criminal Procedure 12.02(a)^4. Texas Penal Code §36.04(c)^5. See Chapter 42, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 42A.054, Art. 42A.056, Art. 42A.102 .

Improper Influence text over Texas and US flags

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