Coronavirus and your day in court:
As seen in recent weeks, the coronavirus (CoVid-19) has caused havoc in many unimaginable ways in our communities. As the Nation is reeling from many of the coronavirus’ unforeseeable consequences, so have the many people currently finding themselves dealing with the criminal justice system. As such, the coronavirus has created much uncertainty in our local criminal courts as to how and which cases will proceed through the courts.
The Texas Supreme Court Talks:
To combat the spread of coronavirus and to allow for proper social distancing measures, the Texas Supreme Court order the following procedures but not limited to:
- Courts must not conduct non-essential proceedings in person contrary to local, state, or national directives, which is most restrictive, regarding maximum group size.
- Allow the courts to conduct proceedings away from the court’s usual location.
- Allow the courts to be conducted by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or other means.
To comply with the Texas Supreme Court’s order, Tarrant County Criminal Courts and District Courts have ordered that all jury trials between now, March 13, 2020, and April 20, 2020 be canceled – including jury trials for defendants in custody. Essentially many of the local courts are only proceeding with docket settings for cases that involved “essential proceedings” or for individuals that are in custody. Many of the surrounding counties have enacted similar orders as Tarrant County, below are some of the ways local counties are proceeding to comply with the order from the Texas Supreme Court.
Tarrant County Criminal and District Courts:
- In custody individuals will continue to have docket court setting, including but not limited to essential and non-essential proceedings.
- “Jail runs” and disposition dockets proceedings will continue
- Teleconferencing and videoconferencing is now being allowed
Dallas County Criminal and District Courts:
- Courts will continue to have dispositive hearings on all jail cases, including bond hearings.
- All bond cases are rescheduled and individuals are not required to appear except for pleas and sentencings.
- Teleconferencing and videoconferencing is now being allowed.
Therefore, many of the local criminal courts are now resetting cases, in which an individual is out on bond, until May or a later date. However, this likely will lead to a backlog of cases for these local criminal courts. In order combat the potential backlogging of criminal cases, many of the local district attorney offices are encouraging local criminal defense attorneys to continue negations on many of these cases – involving both in custody and out of custody individuals. In many instances, these continued negations are leading to very favorable outcomes for individuals.
Coronavirus used as an enhancement: Texas Penal Code Section 12.50
Due to Texas Governor Gregg Abbott declaring a state of emergency, Texas Penal Code Section 12.50 is now affect the range of punishment for certain crimes alleged to be committed. Under Penal Code 12.50, punishment can be increased to the next higher category of offense if it is shown on the trial of the offense that the offense was committed in an area that was subject to a declaration of a state of disaster. Therefore, the range of punishment can be increased by one category for the following crimes alleged committed:
- Criminal Trespass, and
For example, for a first-time offender, Arson is typically classified as a 2nd Degree Felony, which carries a range of punishment of 2-20 years in the Texas Department of Corrections and a possible fine of up to $10,000. However, under Texas Penal Code Section 12.50, due to the declaration of emergency an individual could receive punishment in the category of a 1st degree felony, which carries a range of punishment of 5-99 years in the Texas Department of Corrections and a possible fine of up to $10,000.