Enhanced Criminal Penalties Due to State of Disaster
As you know, on March 13, 2020 Governor Abbott declared a State of Disaster in Texas due to COVID-19. What you may not know is that in Texas, the punishment for several crimes is enhanced to the next higher category of offense if they are committed in an area that was subject to a disaster declaration at the time of the offense. That means these enhanced punishments apply to crimes committed anywhere in the State of Texas, beginning on March 13th until the state of disaster is officially rescinded.
So… which crimes are enhanced? According to Texas Penal Code §12.50, in the case of a disaster declaration, punishment for the following crimes is increased by one degree if committed during the disaster:
The punishment categories for most of these crimes vary based on the circumstances. For instance, theft can normally range from a Class C misdemeanor if the value of the stolen property is under $100... all the way up to a First Degree felony if the value of the stolen property is $300,000 or more.
In general, the way this statute works is that it bumps the category up one notch for punishment purposes. That means that the punishment for a Class C misdemeanor would get bumped up to Class B misdemeanor punishment. Class B misdemeanor punishment would get bumped up to Class A misdemeanor punishment, etc.
Here is an example. Theft under $100 is a Class C misdemeanor. Normally, a person convicted of this offense would be facing a maximum fine of $500 and no jail time. However, if that same theft occurred during the declared disaster, then because of the enhancement the person would be facing Class B misdemeanor punishment which is up to 180 days in the county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. As you can see, these enhancements can really make a big difference!
However, it's not always as simple as moving the punishment up to the next higher offense level. There are some exceptions and variations on how the enhancements work, so it is always important to consult with a licensed attorney to make sure you fully understand how the law applies to your situation.