Coronavirus Impact on Criminal Law in Texas

Governor Greg Abbot recently created several executive orders that affect the criminal defense process. There are also several criminal justice developments happening throughout Texas:

  • March 29: Inmates accused, charged or previously convicted of violent crimes (physical violence or threat of physical violence) are barred from release in jail until bail is paid. This order affects inmates on no-cost, personal bonds. Learn More
  • March 29: Judges can consider a defendant’s release for health and medical reasons after notifying district attorney and there is an opportunity for hearing. Bail can be set at any amount during sentencing, taking into account a defendant’s risk of contracting COVID-19.
  • March 24: Prison workers and inmates in Texas test positive for Coronavirus. Federal prisons and state jails are expected to experience outbreaks of COVID-19 due to close proximity and lack of sanitation. As a result, some districts are considering release of non-violent offenders. Learn More
  • March 19: Many district judges in rural parts of the state have canceled all court hearings until further notice. If you are in jail for a non-violent offense and unable to make bail, talk to a criminal attorney about a reduction and early release.
  • March 13: Governor Abbot declares state of disaster in Texas. The Supreme Court of Texas and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals can “modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures”. Courts can use video conferencing for proceedings. Since the disaster declaration, both of the highest courts have suspended oral arguments. Learn More.

While a few executive orders are issued state-wide, many criminal justice decisions are occurring at the local level, by county and districts.

Our Commitment to Clients and Staff

At Chappell, Lanehart & Stangl we are closely monitoring the pandemic and crisis of COVID-19. The safety of our employees and clients are high priority. However, we also have an essential duty to represent clients accused of a crime. In these uncertain times, maintaining public safety and a fair and balanced criminal justice system is critical to Texans.

Criminal Law is Essential Business in Lubbock

While non-essential businesses in Lubbock are closed, most law offices are open. There are deadlines and time-sensitive services still needed to support clients. That said, many court procedures and trials are postponed or altered:

  • Grand jury procedures are postponed for all felony state offenses, due to limits on gatherings of more than 10 people
  • Jury trials for new state cases are on hold in most districts
  • Non-jury hearings such as bail or plea deals are happening remotely via video conference in many districts
  • In Lubbock County, essential court proceedings are happening in front of a judge, but with social distancing
  • Many prosecutors are working from home but are still filing misdemeanors and non-felony charges.

Are Criminal Courts still open or are all trials postponed?

The courts are still open, but only for essential matters, such as bond reductions or guilty pleas for those in custody. Almost all matters for defendants on bond are postponed in Lubbock County until at least 4/3, which is expected to be extended.

Can I Meet with Your Practice for a Consultation?

Yes, Chuck and Fred are available for a free consultation either on the phone or a video conference. Active clients can meet with us in the office but we are limiting office visits to one individual at a time.

Is Lawyer Visitation Still Allowed for Defendants in Jail?

As of now, visitation with inmates can occur in person, but attorneys are required to get their temperature taken before entering jail and prison facilities. Most discussions will occur by video conference from booths set up at the courthouse. Phone call visitations can happen at any time when clients call our office.

If the courthouse shuts down, video conferencing could be revoked. To enter the courthouse, temperatures are now being taken which is a new procedure due to the crisis.

How Will Criminal Trials Be Impacted?

Part of the difficulty of the COVID-19 pandemic is how quickly it has spread and how fast laws, rules and orders have been enacted at the federal, state and local level. What is happening now is likely to change next week and the months ahead.

For the safety of our clients, we have always been available for phone consultations. We have also transitioned to Zoom and can video conference for court proceedings and client questions. Some districts in Texas are conducting trials using video conferencing while others have postponed all proceedings.



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