From the 800 Line: Temporary Tags

In 2021, the Texas Legislature passed H.B. 3927 to combat the prevalence of unauthorized temporary motor vehicle tags. Valid temporary tags allow vehicles to be legally operated without registration (typically following a vehicle purchase). Much of H.B. 3927 focused on the creation and distribution of counterfeit temporary tags, which would result in Class B misdemeanor or higher charges. But, perhaps due to new priorities of law enforcement, Class C misdemeanor filings for drivers operating vehicles with counterfeit temporary tags seem to be on the rise since the passage of H.B. 3927. This has led to numerous questions from municipal judges and clerks asking what charge—and what fine range—should apply when police cite a driver for displaying an unauthorized temporary tag.

§ 503.067(b), T.C., states that a person may not operate a vehicle that displays a temporary tag in violation of Chapter 503, which is an entire chapter dedicated to dealer’s and manufacturer’s license plates. Under § 503.094, the fine range, “except as otherwise provided,” is $50-5,000 and can be trebled (tripled) upon a finding that the violation was committed willfully or with conscious indifference. However, § 503.094 goes on to specify that offenses under § 503.067(b) are Class C misdemeanors. Class C misdemeanor is the term used in § 12.23 of the Penal Code for fine-only misdemeanors with the punishment as “a fine not to exceed $500.”

The use of the term “Class C misdemeanor” in § 503.094(d)(1) arguably modifies the $50-5,000 range. TMCEC has interpreted this mention of Class C misdemeanors to set the fine range for offenses under § 503.067(b) or (c) as those prescribed by § 12.23 of the Penal Code: $0-500. To give effect to as much of the language in § 503.094(b) as possible, though, a judge could safely set the fine within both the Penal Code Class C range as well the $50 minimum that also appears in Section 503.094, resulting in a range of $50-500. If the defendant is demonstrated to have acted willfully or with conscious indifference, the trebled fine would range would be $150-1,500.

Either minimum fine ($0 or $50) might be reasonably read into the statute.
Some may read the statute to say that the fine range for a Class C misdemeanor under § 503.067(b) or (c) is $50-5,000 (or $150-15,000 for willful or consciously indifferent conduct). However, that reading gives no effect to the use of the legal term of art, “Class C misdemeanor,” in § 503.094(d)(1). Furthermore, there are offenses in Chapter 503 that are not itemized in Subsections (d)(1) through (d)(4) that give effect to § 503.094(b).

Published by markgoodner

General Counsel & Director of Education, TMCEC

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