Yet another unintended consequence of the current COVID-19 pandemic is the enhancement of penalties for certain types of crimes when the Governor declares a State of Emergency in Texas. Just such a thing happened on March 13, 2020, when Texas Governor Gregg Abbott issued an emergency declaration in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Some of the things Gov. Abbott promised would happen did not exactly pan out – parts of the state are still waiting on those drive through testing facilities, for one. Some things did come to pass, though. For example, the punishment ranges for certain types of crimes are increased by one level. So, for example, if someone commits the Class B misdemeanor of theft, that now automatically becomes a Class A misdemeanor during the state of emergency.
A class B misdemeanor is normally punishable by up to six months in the county jail, a $2,000.00 fine, or both. A class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in the county jail, a $4,000.00 fine, or both. Essentially, the punishment range doubles now that we are officially under a state of emergency.
It is important to note that these enhanced punishments only come at the end of a trial of the case. The authority for this comes from Texas Penal Code §12.50. That specific section states that the punishment levels are enhanced if it is shown on the trial of the offense that it was committed during a declared emergency. This humble attorney and counselor at law suspects that the State Prosecutors will use this enhancement to strong-arm unfavorable plea bargain agreements with the threat of increased punishment looming over a citizen accused, but I’m admittedly jaded. Some clients will undoubtedly be more amenable to plea bargain offers if the potential punishment could double if the jury comes back with the dreaded one-word verdict of guilty.
There are four categories of crimes expressly mentioned in §12.50 that are subject to enhancement. Texas Penal Code §22.01 (Assault), §29.02 (Robbery), §30.02 (Burglary) and §31.03 (Theft). This means that anyone who is alleged to have committed any of the variations of these specific crimes is subject to the charges being taken up one level of punishment if they are convicted following either a jury or bench trial. Third-degree felonies can now become second-degree felonies, second-degree felonies can now become first degree felonies, and so on. Anyone who is arrested and charged with any of these specific crimes is subject to the enhancements that come along with a state of emergency declaration.
Contact the attorneys at Hamilton Grant if you have been charged with an offense that may be subject to this enhancement.