Government agencies across East Texas are more proactively investigating and prosecuting crimes related to the environment. The most common environmental charge is Illegal Dumping, criminalized under §365.012 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. This law is also referred to as the Litter Abatement Act. Keep in mind, there are many other statutes under Texas law designed to protect the environment. As an example, the Texas Water Code prohibits many forms of unauthorized discharge into waters of the state. The Litter Abatement Act is not the only act under which citizens can be prosecuted, but it is by far the most common tool used by law enforcement to pursue criminal action against a citizen. If you have been charged with illegal dumping in Texas, you should rely on a proactive defense attorney to safeguard your rights and liberty.
The Litter Abatement Act is a complex statute with many different provisions. Illegal dumping can be a misdemeanor, or a felony, depending on the total weight of the disposed garbage. There are in many situations harsher penalties in place regarding commercial dumping. The statute is broad enough that it can even reach certain conduct that a citizen does on private land owned by the citizen. Misdemeanor offenses under the Illegal Dumping statute may be prosecuted without alleging or proving any culpable mental state. This means that even if you did not have criminal intent, the government can still prosecute you for a misdemeanor offense.
Most often, these offenses are investigated using mounted pole cameras or other surveillance equipment. Other times, officers will respond to a trash site and comb through the litter in an effort to tie it back to a citizen. Issues arise when citizens trust someone to lawfully dispose of their litter, only to find later that the trash has been disposed illegally.
Many Texans believe they can do anything they want on their own land, so long as they do not harm anyone else. Texas is a freedom-loving state, but our illegal dumping laws stop short of giving people unlimited freedom. There are certain situations, however, when someone is on their own land, that the statute does not apply. The illegal dumping statute does not apply if each of the following four conditions are met: (1) – the litter or waste is generated on land the individual owns; (2) – the litter or waste is not generated as a result of an activity related to a commercial purpose; (3) – the disposal occurs on land the individual owns; and (4) – the disposal is not for a commercial purpose.
Another notable defense with regard to illegal dumping is the temporary storage defense. The illegal dumping statute does not apply to the temporary storage for future disposal of litter or other solid waste by a person on land owned by that person, or by that person’s agent. The law goes on to say that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality by rule shall regulate temporary storage for future disposal of litter or other solid waste by a person on land owned by the person or the person’s agent. Many law enforcement officers are not aware of its existence, and fewer still are aware that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has not promulgated regulations to define temporary storage rules. Many law enforcement officers specializing in this area of enforcement believe that such regulations exist, any many of them will, in a heavy-handed manner, demand certain compliance action from citizens. However, temporary storage remains unregulated by the commission, and as such, will be a factual determination for a jury to interpret at trial.