Montgomery County Disaster Declaration Enhances Punishment for Certain Criminal Offenses
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.
The offenses themselves aren’t enhanced – only the punishment. A defense to the enhancement of punishment is if the crime is committed out of necessity as defined by the law. This means that certain misdemeanors can have an extra six months in jail. Felonies can move up to a higher degree in punishment. This means instead of facing 2 to 10 years in custody for a Third Degree Felony, you could be facing 2 to 20 as a Second Degree Felony.
Of course, every criminal case is different and could be subject to other additional enhancements. If you find yourself charged with Assault, Arson, Robbery, Burglary, Burglary of Motor Vehicle, Theft and/or Criminal Trespass during this strange time contact our office. We’ll advise you of your rights.