During an emergency meeting on Sunday, March 23, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson supported the county’s Second Amended Declaration of Local Disaster to impose jail time and fines for individuals charged with violating the county’s emergency order pertaining to the coronavirus.
Even as state officials from both parties urge a reduction in jail populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tarrant County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the suggested penalties. Individuals and businesses face up to a $1000 fine per violation or 180 days in jail for violating Tarrant County’s COVID orders.
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions regarding Tarrant County’s COVID-19 orders.
Section 418.173 of the Texas Government Code says it’s an offense to fail to comply with a state, local or interjurisdictional emergency management plan. Here’s the language of the law which applies to Tarrant County’s COVID order and other orders across the state of Texas:
Sec. 418.173. PENALTY FOR VIOLATION OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT PLAN.
(a) A state, local, or interjurisdictional emergency management plan may provide that failure to comply with the plan or with a rule, order, or ordinance adopted under the plan is an offense.
(b) The plan may prescribe a punishment for the offense but may not prescribe a fine that exceeds $1,000 or confinement in jail for a term that exceeds 180 days.
The following restrictions are currently in place in Tarrant County. Violating these rules could result in fines and jail time.
During the March 23 meeting, DA Sharen Wilson addressed the Commissioners Court regarding how ongoing violations would be handled. Wilson’s position is that each day is a new offense. As a result, a business that stays open for, say three days despite the emergency order, could face thousands of dollars in fines, and employees and business owners could face multiple criminal counts.
Texas Penal Code 12.50 enhances certain offenses by one level if the offense took place in a disaster area. Penal Code 12.50 was triggered throughout Texas when Governor Abbott declared a state of disaster due to coronavirus under Government Code 418.014.
That begs the question: Will the maximum 180 day sentence for violating Tarrant County COVID orders (which is equivalent to a Class B misdemeanor) be enhanced as offenses occurring in a disaster zone? No, because only certain offenses can be enhanced. These offenses are:
Each city will be responsible for enforcing the emergency order. It will be the District Attorney’s Office that prosecutes the violations.
On March 24, 2020, at 9 am, Mayor Betsy Price announced, along with Tarrant County Judge Glenn Whitley, a Shelter in Place order (which they are calling a Stay-at-Home order) that is effective through April 3, 2020. That order has since been extended to April 30.
Yes, the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center is still open but only for essential court matters primarily involving in-custody defendants. All jury trials have been canceled until April 20, 2020.
No, inmate visitation has been suspended for everyone except attorneys.
Until further notice, only defendants with a scheduled appointment or who are submitted a drug test will be allowed to report to Community Supervision and Corrections. You must contact your officer prior to reporting, even if you have an appointment. Your officer will confirm your appointment before you are allowed in the building. Many check-ins have already been converted to virtual check-ins. Here’s more probationer information.
If you or a loved one is facing a fine or jail time for violating Tarrant County’s COVID orders, it’s important to contact an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible. We can help. Contact us at 817-203-2220.