In the United States, there are two primary types of laws. Federal laws are passed and upheld by the U.S. government and they apply to all 50 states. State laws, however, are created and maintained by individual state governments. These laws can vary widely between states because they are created to address situations which may be unique to one state.
The state laws in Texas are very different from neighboring states and they may be completely different from states on the east or west coast. Taking a close look at these laws will shed some light on the way that state laws can differ from one place to another.
Why Do State Laws Differ?
There are many reasons that state governments pass and maintain different laws. In most cases, these differences have to do with the unique characteristics of one state’s economy, population or resources when compared to another state.
It’s important to note that state laws can share many similarities as well. For example, all states criminalize driving while intoxicated. However, some states, such as Mississippi, allow drivers to possess an open container of alcohol in the car while driving as long as they don’t become intoxicated. In Texas, that same behavior could lead to a citation and a $500 fine.
It’s also true that some states share similar laws but they may apply them differently. For example, first-degree murder is one of the most serious crimes that a person can commit in any of the 50 states. In some states, such as Texas, a person who is convicted of first-degree murder can be executed by the state. However, just over the Texas border in New Mexico, the death penalty was abolished in 2009 and replaced with mandatory life imprisonment.
The differing nature of laws between states is also a reflection of the political stance of a state’s population and lawmakers. More conservative states frequently support less gun control, harsher drug laws and smaller government while more liberal states support stricter gun control, less severe drug punishments and broader governmental programs.
Examples of Differing State Laws
Taking a close look at specific examples of differing state laws is very helpful for understanding these differences.
As mentioned above, gun control laws can vary widely from state to state. One of the major differences regarding gun control laws in different states is the availability of firearms.
For example, in Texas, a person who has never been convicted of a felony can walk into a big box store and purchase a semi-automatic rifle as long as they pass a background check. Some other states, like California, require a person to have a license or wait for a “cooling off” period before purchasing a gun.
Many states that support gun rights allow the open carry of firearms in public. In January of 2016, Texas joined those states by changing the law to allow open carry. Many other states prohibit this behavior.
States can vary widely in their application of punishment for various crimes. Theft crimes are a good example of this variation. In Texas, there is no distinction between different “types” of theft. The punishment for stealing something is based on the value of the stolen property. For example, stealing something worth less the $50 is a misdemeanor while stealing something worth $50,000 is a felony.
In other states, such as New York, there are some significant differences. Unlike Texas, New York laws make a distinction between petty theft and grand theft. Under New York law, a person can be charged with fourth-degree larceny for stealing an item:
- Worth more than $1000
- By using extortion
- Directly from another person
- Which is on a list of certain controlled items
This is an important distinction because Texas law can apply theft penalties based on the total value of the stolen item. In contrast, New York law can apply punishments based on how an item was stolen and what type of item was stolen.
Many states have vastly different laws regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol. For example, in Texas, it is legal to purchase a daiquiri from a drive-through establishment but there are strict restrictions regarding alcohol purchases on Sundays.
In California, there are no drive-through daiquiri stores but alcohol purchases are less restricted on Sundays and up to one liter of alcohol can be brought into California from Mexico duty-free.
This is a good example of laws that differ based on cultural and political attitudes, as well as geographic location.
In summary, there are many reasons that laws differ between the states. Social attitudes, political leanings and situations that are unique to a particular state all play a major part in the way that laws are written and applied from state to state.
About the author – Greg Tsioros
Houston defense lawyer Greg Tsioros provides legal advice and aggressive representation for clients charged with misdemeanors and felonies at both the state and federal level. Mr. Tsioros handles criminal defense cases of any stature – from orders of non-disclosure and expunctions to more serious DWI and drug charges. With years of experience as a state prosecutor and as an accomplished Houston criminal defense attorney, Greg Tsioros is prepared to defend you from virtually any criminal accusation. No matter how complicated your particular circumstances may be, Mr. Tsioros will work tirelessly to ensure that your rights are protected and never taken for granted.