On Friday, March 13, 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared Texas in a state of disaster in reaction to the outbreak of COVID-19. This declaration allows the use of all available resources to combat the outbreak. After this announcement, Greening Law informed you that this declaration also activated a particular section of the Texas Penal Code involving increased punishments for certain offenses. Under Section 12.50 of the Texas Penal Code, offenses involving assault, robbery, burglary, criminal trespass, and theft are increased to the next punishment level if committed during this state of emergency.

On Tuesday, March 17, 2020, Bryan Mayor Andrew Nelson and College Station Mayor Karl Mooney declared the cities as disaster areas. These declarations contained orders closing all bars and restaurants in the cities to in-house services as of 9:00 p.m on Wednesday, March 18. The affected restaurants may continue their to-go, takeout, drive-thru, and curbside business. In addition, the Mayors are banning gatherings of 10 or more people in one area in accordance with current CDC recommendations. On March 19, 2020, Governor Abbott issued a series of orders that keep these closures and group size restrictions through APRIL 3, 2020.

How does this affect you and why should you comply? This declaration includes an enforcement mechanism. IF you violate these current rules, you can be subject to a fine and/or incarceration. Section 418.173 of the Texas Government Code controls this punishment. The plan does not contain a specific punishment for violation of this order, so we turn to the statutory guidelines. Under this Section, the MAXIMUM punishment for violators is a fine of $1,000 or confinement in jail of up to 180 days.

This is a difficult situation because humans are social creatures and we do not have much guidance. Will law enforcement officers enforce these current these new orders? At this point, it’s hard to say. This is unprecedented in our community and the Mayors’ order does not specifically explain how these rules will be enforced. It’s unlikely that law enforcement will want to increase the jail population with these offenses, so a warning or a ticket are the most likely outcomes. It’s important to remember that you CAN be arrested if you fail to comply. Under Section 38.15 of the Penal Code, the criminal offense of interfering with public duties IS an arrestable crime.

As always, it is best to err on the side of caution and comply with known laws and best health practices. If you find yourself in trouble for violating these current declarations, call us at Greening Law and let us guide you through the process.