National Emergency & It’s Impact on Texas Criminal Law
On Friday, March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The President’s declaration means that he will enact the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which allows the White House to mobilize the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and direct federal aid to states hit by disasters and health crises. It also means that there could be enhanced criminal penalties for certain offenses, including assault, theft, robbery, and burglary, committed in the State of Texas if a state of disaster has been made by the President of the United States or the Governor of the State of Texas.
See the full Texas Penal Code statute below, but the impact is that it otherwise increases the punishment for those offenses committed in a disaster area. In some cases, it increases the minimum jail time a person can receive (for example, for a Class A Assault Bodily Injury, the minimum would be 180 days in jail instead of 0 days in jail), and in other cases, it increases the level of offense by an entire degree (for example, a burglary of a habitation is normally a second degree felony, which carries a range of punishment of 2-20 years in prison. If committed in a disaster area, the range increases to 5 to 99 years in prison on a first degree charge).
Texas Penal Code § 12.50. Penalty if Offense Committed in Disaster Area or Evacuated Area
(a) Subject to Subsection (c), the punishment for an offense described by Subsection (b) is increased to the punishment prescribed for 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, at the time of the offense:
(1) subject to a declaration of a state of disaster made by:
(A) the president of the United States under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act ( 42 U.S.C. Section 5121 et seq. );
(B) the governor under Section 418.014, Government Code ; or
(C) the presiding officer of the governing body of a political subdivision under Section 418.108, Government Code ; or
(2) subject to an emergency evacuation order.
(b) The increase in punishment authorized by this section applies only to an offense under:
(1) Section 22.01 (Assault);
(2) Section 29.02 (Robbery);
(3) Section 30.02 (Burglary); and
(4) Section 31.03 (Theft).
(c) If an offense listed under Subsection (b)(1) or (4) is punishable as a Class A misdemeanor, the minimum term of confinement for the offense is increased to 180 days. If an offense listed under Subsection (b)(3) or (4) is punishable as a felony of the first degree, the punishment for that offense may not be increased under this section.
(d) It is a defense to a charge under Subsection (b)(4) that the conduct in question meets the elements of necessity outlined in Section 9.22 .
(e) For purposes of this section, “emergency evacuation order” means an official statement issued by the governing body of this state or a political subdivision of this state to recommend or require the evacuation of all or part of the population of an area stricken or threatened with a disaster.
Hoeller McLaughlin PLLC is a criminal defense and DWI law firm with offices in Fort Worth and Colleyville, Texas. All of our criminal defense lawyers and DWI attorneys are former Tarrant County prosecutors with over 200 combined jury trials, from DWI to capital murder. If you need help on a case, please call 817-334-7900.