Committing Crimes During COVID-19 Could Result in Harsher Penalties

The Declaration of a State of Disaster Increases the Punishment for Certain Crimes

On March 13, 2020, Governor Gregg Abbott Declared a State of Disaster in Texas due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Pursuant to Penal Code Section 12.50, there is an increase in punishment for certain crimes committed in an area subject to a declaration of a state of disaster. 

According to the Penal Code, the following crimes may be enhanced to the next higher category of offense if at trial it can be shown that the offense was committed in an area that was subject to a declaration of a state of disaster:

  • Assault (Penal Code Section 22.01)
  • Arson (Penal Code Section 28.02)
  • Robbery (Penal Code Section 29.02)
  • Burglary (Penal Code Section 30.02)
  • Burglary of coin-operated or coin collection machines (Penal Code Section 30.03)
  • Burglary of Vehicles (Penal Code Section 30.04)
  • Criminal Trespass (Penal Code Section 30.05)
  • Theft (Penal Code Section 31.03)

Until the emergency declaration is lifted, any of the offenses listed above are subject to the enhanced penalties. This means that if a crime would typically be penalized as a state jail felony, subject to up to two years in jail, it could now be charged as a third-degree felony with penalties up to ten years in prison. Under certain circumstances, a prosecutor will ask for the minimum term of confinement for the offense to be increased. For instance, if a person commits an assault during the declaration of a state of disaster, which would generally be punishable as a Class A misdemeanor, the minimum sentence would be increased to 180 days. 

This is not the first time the State has increased penalties for crimes committed during a disaster. As reported by the Houston Press, a significant increase in looting during Hurricane Harvey resulted in prosecutors seeking stiffer penalties under these “enhancement paragraphs” of the Penal Code.

Hire an Experienced Houston Criminal Defense Attorney

While many courts have limited their in-person appearances during the coronavirus pandemic, they are still operational. If you are arrested for a crime, the charges will rarely get dismissed or reduced without intervention from an experienced criminal defense attorney. At the Law Offices of James Alston, we are still open and working in full capacity to defend the rights of those accused of a crime in Houston or the surrounding areas. We offer virtual consultations through phone and video conferencing to protect your health and safety. If you are arrested for a crime, you need to act fast to protect your rights and your freedom. Prosecutors will be aggressively pursuing enhanced penalties under Section 12.50 of the Penal Code. Call our offices today for a free consultation at 713.228.1400.