Articles Posted in Montgomery County

Montgomery County Disaster Declaration Enhances Punishment for Certain Criminal Offenses

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Montgomery County County Judge Mark Keough extends the Disaster Declaration until May 11th. This comes after Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for Texas on March 13th. These proclamations are intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus and provide national relief and benefit for the community. Specifically, in an emergency meeting in Conroe, County Judge Mark Keough said, “We want to be able to recoup all our costs.” However, there are consequences that accompany the benefit.

A disaster declaration triggers tougher punishments for crimes under Texas Penal Code § 12.50. The section, Penalty if Offense Committed in Disaster Area or Evacuated Area, tells us who can make the declaration and who it impacts. The increase in punishment is for Assault, Arson, Robbery, Burglary, Burglary of Motor Vehicle, Theft and Criminal Trespass cases. In speaking on the harsher punishment, Montgomery County District Attorney’s prosecutor Kelly Blackburn has said, “The enhancement (of punishment) is just a better tool in our tool belt to use to try to effectively prosecute people that are taking advantage of this situation.” The last time we saw a similar disaster declaration in Texas was during Hurricane Harvey.

Montgomery County Probation Isn’t Cancelled Amongst COVID-19

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Court dates in Montgomery County have largely been rescheduled or cancelled due to the Coronavirus. Judges are adapting by using video conferencing applications such as Zoom to address issues related to bond and to take pleas, but downtown Conroe, despite its sizable essential employee status, is a ghost town. This comes as no surprise as Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough extends his stay-at-home order and families cancel birthdays, showers, family reunions, and vacations and replace their party hats with their teacher hats as schools cancel as well. What hasn’t been cancelled though, is Montgomery County probation. Drug testing through Averhealth too has not been cancelled.

Why does that matter? Approximately 60% of criminal cases result in some sort of community supervision. In 2018, the Prison Policy Initiative counted 4.5 million adults per year in the United States on community supervision. About half of the population in county jails are individuals who have violated the conditions of their release.  That’s approximately 350,000 people each year who are jailed for revocations. You’re likely to see a spike in that number as people become more desperate from layoffs, isolation, and pressure from dealing with the consequences of COVID-19 rises. Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office has already reported a 35% spike in assault calls.

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