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  • Residential Eviction Case Guidance - Updated 8/27/21

    • The United States Supreme Court has held that the CDC does not have the legal authority to impose a nationwide moratorium on evictions. View the Court’s decision.

      As a result of this decision, justice courts no longer need to inform a landlord in an eviction case of the CDC moratorium or ask the landlord if they wish to wait until the expiration of the moratorium to proceed with their case. The CDC moratorium has been vacated and a CDC Declaration is no longer an adequate basis for a stay of an eviction case. If a case was previously stayed because of the filing of a CDC Declaration, the court may now proceed with the case.

      However, this decision does not affect the Eviction Diversion Program. Justice Courts must still follow the procedures in the 39th Emergency Order relating to the Texas Eviction Diversion Program, which include providing information about the program to the parties, asking the parties at trial if they wish to participate in the program, and staying the case for up to 60 days (with a possible extension of that stay) if they decide to participate in the program. Also note that the 60 day stay applies if the plaintiff has submitted an application for any other rent relief program.

    • The Texas Supreme Court has implemented requirements related to the Texas Eviction Diversion Program for petitions and citations in residential eviction cases based partially or completely on nonpayment of rent.

      In all residential eviction cases based partially or completely on nonpayment of rent, the landlord must include in an original or amended petition whether or not the plaintiff has reviewed the Eviction Diversion Program website (https://www.txcourts.gov/programs-services/eviction-diversion-program/). Citations must include warning to the tenant about the Texas Eviction Diversion Program in both English and Spanish. 

      Eviction Petition

      Eviction Citation -  must also attach the TEDP Brochure.

      The requirement to include this information in the petition and citation only applies to residential evictions based partially or completely on nonpayment of rent. However, TJCTC believes it is OK for courts to include this information on all eviction petitions and citations, both because it is difficult to ensure the correct forms are used in every case, but also because any eviction could become related to nonpayment if the tenant fails to continue paying rent.

    • Please also see the TEDP Forms and FAQ section further down this page.

      Visit the OCA program information page for full program details. 

      The Supreme Court has issued its 39th Emergency Order that extends the statewide program through at least October 1st, and outlines some of the provisions and procedures (read the 39th Emergency Order). 

      Click here to watch an OCA webinar from February 11, 2021, discussing the statewide rollout of the Texas Eviction Diversion Program. Download the PowerPoint handout.

      The Texas Supreme Court, in conjunction with an order from Gov. Abbott and with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs has created the Texas Eviction Diversion Program, which is designed to curb a surge of COVID-related evictions, assist vulnerable tenants, and provide an alternative to eviction for landlords.

      Forms and Documents
      The program requires additional language for petitions and citations in eviction cases, for the landlord to swear that they have reviewed the program website (https://www.txcourts.gov/programs-services/eviction-diversion-program/) and to notify the tenant of their rights under this program. TJCTC has developed sample citation and petition forms that meet these requirements. Additionally, a brochure developed by TDCHA must be attached to the citation that is sent out to the tenant. Please see the Forms and Documents section in the FAQ on the Diversion Program to download the forms and brochure.

      Discussion of the Program with Parties
      The judge must confirm whether the plaintiff has any pending applications for rental assistance, and must also discuss the TEDP with parties at an eviction trial where the grounds are nonpayment of rent. TJCTC has developed a sample script to use. Click here for the script for reading to the parties and here for a written notice to send to parties. 

      Funding for rental assistance and eviction diversion will be available for distribution to eligible landlords/tenants and can cover up to 12 months of past due rent and utilities (from March 13, 2020, to present) and up to 3 months of future rent. Landlords must agree to waive late payment fees and their previous claims (both for non-payment of rent or others), and the funding will be direct deposited with the landlord. Tenants must meet income eligibility requirements (at or below 80% of Area Median Income) and be financially affected by COVID-19.

      Procedure if Parties are Participating
      Parties can decide to participate at any point in the case, even post-judgment, as long as no writ of possession has been issued. If the plaintiff has a pending application for rental assistance, or both parties wish to participate in the TEDP, the court places the case on a 60-day hold and makes all documents related to the case confidential and unavailable to the public. 

      Refer parties to the TDHCA website, TEDP brochure, texasrentrelief.com, or they can call 833-9TX-RENT so that they can apply. There is no need for the court to fill out any referral form, or make any evaluation of eligibility. Eligibility for the program will be determined by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (See the TDHCA site for more information.)

      Procedure to Reinstate the Case
      At any time during the 60 day period, the landlord may file a motion to reinstate (which should also be served on the tenant). The motion must state that any application for rental assistance or for the TEDP has been denied, canceled, or withdrawn.

      The court then issues a written order that reinstates the case and states the procedure for the case to proceed. The trial should be held within 21 days of the reinstatement. Also, all records related to the case should be made available to the public again.

      Procedure if no Reinstatement Filed
      The plaintiff may request an extension of the abatement period, and the court may extend it for no more than 60 days per extension. If no reinstatement motion or extension request is filed, the court must dismiss the case at the end of the 60-day period, and all records remain confidential.

      The case is dismissed with prejudice, meaning this same specific claim may not be re-filed, but the landlord may file a new eviction case based on breaches of the lease other than nonpayment occurring during or after participation in the program, or based on nonpayment of rent due after the 60 day window.

    • The expiration of the Texas Supreme Court's 34th Emergency Order means that plaintiffs are no longer required to include in an eviction petition whether a property is a "covered dwelling" or whether a 30-day notice to vacate was given.

      However, as always, the plaintiff must prove that they have given the proper notice to vacate in order to receive a judgment of possession. If the property is a "covered dwelling" and the eviction is based on nonpayment, the plaintiff is still required to give a 30-day notice to vacate. This requirement of the CARES Act DID NOT expire on March 31. If the property is not covered by the CARES Act or the eviction is not based on nonpayment, then the standard notice to vacate rules would apply. (For information on whether a property is a "covered dwelling" see the section in this category on "Determining if a Property is a "Covered Dwelling" Under the CARES Act.'")

      If a petition describes the notice to vacate given as well as the reason why that notice to vacate is proper, and the defendant does not appear or answer, the petition must be taken as true. This means that the plaintiff would have proven proper notice to vacate.

      If, instead, the petition doesn't lay out the notice given and why it is proper, or the defendant answers or appears, the petition is not sufficient to prove proper notice to vacate. Rule 500.6 makes clear that justice courts can develop the facts of the case at trial to determine whether the CARES Act applies to an eviction case and whether the proper notice to vacate was given. 

      On April 8, TJCTC received a brief from TAA outlining their position that the 30-day notice to vacate provision no longer applies. Read the brief here.

    • The 10-21 day trial requirement may be suspended, if necessary to avoid risk to public health and safety due to COVID-19, by courts until a date no later than October 1, under the authority of the 40th Emergency Order. Jury trial deadlines may be suspended under that order through January 1, 2022.

      However, note that under current guidance, proceedings may not be held in person except in accordance with the county's minimum standard health protocols for court proceedings and in-person proceeding schedule for all judges in county buildings. See the section on Remote Hearings for more information on holding remote eviction hearings, including sample forms and instructions, and the section on In-Person Proceedings for more on requirements and restrictions.

      Remember that courts are still authorized to suspend any deadlines or procedures (and must suspend if necessary for public health and safety) until the authorization under the Emergency Orders of the Supreme Court expires (currently October 1, 2021).

      Click here for a sample notice for a remote eviction hearing.

      Click here for sample Zoom instructions for parties.

      Writs of possession may now be executed. The 60 and 90 day deadlines for writs in Rule 510.8(d) may be extended by courts if needed to avoid risk, until a date no later than October 1, under the authority of the 40th Emergency Order. 

    • While there is no specific requirement in any of the Orders or Guidance that applies to this situation, remember that under the 40th Emergency Order, that the court has the authority to modify or suspend any procedures, and must do so to protect the health and safety of all involved, including constables, court staff, and parties.

      This authority currently extends through October 1.

      Many courts in this situation are postponing the case for two weeks and then having the defendant check back in with an updated status. 

    • What is a "Covered Dwelling"?
      In short, the Act applies to all housing programs such as public housing, project-based section 8, Housing Choice Vouchers, LIHTC, etc, as well as the rural voucher program and properties with federally-backed mortgages (HUD, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac; more detailed definitions are in the Act). 

      If a property has some tenants to which these programs apply, the CARES Act will likely cover all tenants at that property, according to its plain language. This interpretation is not universally accepted, with many advocates taking this position, while HUD says that a "market rate property" that accepts vouchers is only covered for the tenants using the vouchers.

      Effects of the CARES Act
      While most of the provisions have expired, the provision requiring a 30-day notice to vacate has not expired. This provision requires a 30-day notice to vacate if the property is a covered dwelling AND the eviction is based on nonpayment.

      What Evictions are Not Affected by the Act?
      The CARES Act does not affect the following:

      • Commercial evictions;
      • Eviction cases that were filed before March 27, 2020;
      • Eviction cases with purely private landlords with none of the funding described above; or
      • Eviction cases in which the grounds for eviction are not related to nonpayment.

      How Can it be Determined if a Property is a Covered Dwelling?
      Landlords can go to the TDCHA website here and click on "HTC Property Inventory (XLSX)" under Additional Guidance and Resources to search a database to determine if their property is subject to the LIHTC restrictions, and can go to this website to check their property against a multi-family housing database.

      Also, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid has composed a map that, while not exhaustive, has tremendous information on covered properties and may be accessed here. More resources for tenants and landlords related to the CARES Act are found on our SRL page, www.tjctc.org/SRL

    • TJCTC is aware that many courts have begun receiving records request for eviction case records. Often, these requests are for courts to continually send new case records to the requestor. 

      Case records are generally open to the public under common law. This means you should release any records on existing cases, presuming they are not confidential due to abatement for rental assistance programs or the Texas Eviction Diversion Program. Courts can deny access to records if they will be used "for an improper purpose" and should redact personal information such as social security or driver license numbers, as well as financial information like bank account numbers.

      However, courts do not have an obligation to create new records, nor are courts obligated to honor requests for "future" records. Your court can choose to comply with the request to send future records if desired, or can require the requestor to continue filing new requests. 

      Note that many of these requests cite the Public Information Act (PIA). The PIA does not apply to the judiciary, however, these requests should be treated as requests for records under the common law as described above. 

      See the Recordkeeping and Reporting Deskbook, as well as the charts in the Recordkeeping and Reporting Section on our Charts and Checklist page for full information.

    • On August 7, 2020, Attorney General Paxton issued Opinion KP-0324 in response to ordinances restricting or pausing evictions passed by counties and municipalities.

      In the opinion, Paxton stated that, even in the current emergency situation, local governmental entities do not have the authority to “rewrite the Property Code.” Paxton did not specify any particular ordinances or directives that violate this guideline.

      However, Property Code Sec. 24.005(e), which governs notices to vacate, says that if “a lease or other applicable law [emphasis added] requires the landlord to give a tenant an opportunity to respond to a notice of proposed eviction before giving a notice to vacate” then the notice to vacate may not be served until after the period for the tenant to respond has expired. Many of the ordinances in question do exactly that, and would seem to be “applicable law” explicitly contemplated by the statute, rather than a “rewriting” of the Property Code. Other provisions outright banning notices to vacate may be tougher to reconcile with Sec. 24.005.

      Since the ordinances in question are local and vary in their terms and provisions, TJCTC strongly recommends that justice courts in counties or cities with such ordinances consult with their county attorney for guidance on how to proceed.

      Also note that nothing in Texas law or Opinion KP-0324 requires courts to proceed with eviction cases if they cannot safely do so, and the 40th Emergency Order of the Supreme Court expressly authorizes courts to postpone any deadlines or procedures in order to protect the safety of court staff, parties, and the public. This authorization currently expires October 1, 2021.

      Additionally, under this Order and current OCA guidance, courts may continue to use all reasonable efforts to conduct proceedings remotely. See the section on In-Person Hearings for details.

    • There has been a statewide increase in unlawful lockouts and utility disconnection during the coronavirus pandemic. TJCTC has a new SRL information packet available on Writs of Retrieval, Re-Entry, and Restoration, and it is now available also in Spanish. Go to www.tjctc.org/SRL to download this packet to make it available to parties in need of the information.

  • Texas Eviction Diversion Program FAQ and Forms - Updated 7/20/21

  • Supreme Court Emergency Orders - Updated 7/20/21

    • To help courts determine which orders are currently active, this section will provide those orders, with a link to read the full text, along with a brief description of the effects of the orders. For complete details on how the orders affect specific types of cases, please see the other topic sections on this page.

      40th Emergency Order - Effective July 19, expires October 1, 2021, with some provisions effective through January 1, 2022. Broad order extending the previous authorization of delay/modification of procedures when necessary due to COVID-19 through October 1 (jury trial and pretrials through January 1, 2022); providing guidance on remote and in-person proceedings. See the sections on guidance for in-person and remote hearings for more information, including OCA best practices. (Read the 40th Emergency Order here.)

      39th Emergency Order - Effective July 19; expires October 1, 2021. This order extends the Texas Eviction Diversion Program, which is designed to curb a surge of COVID-related evictions, assist vulnerable tenants, and provide an alternative to eviction for landlords (Read the 39th Emergency Order here.) Eligibility for the program will be determined by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA). Please see the Diversion Program FAQ section above for full information and to download the forms and documents related to the program.

       

  • Guidance for Remote Hearings - Updated 7/20/21

    • Courts may allow or require all persons to participate in proceedings remotely. 

      Click here for a sample Zoom hearing notice and instructions, developed with TJCTC input by the COVID Workgroup. 

      Click here for sample Zoom Instructions to send to parties, and see other sample forms in other sections.

      Click here for best practices for Zoom hearings involving self-represented litigants or litigants with disabilities, from Texas Access to Justice.

      Click here to watch OCA's July 31, 2020 webinar on effective remote hearings in justice court. 

      Click here for OCA's benchcard on public access to electronic hearings.

      OCA has established Zoom accounts for courts, and set up a page discussing how Zoom works, including a webinar, as well as creating court YouTube channels to allow public access to the courts. You can access that page here. Also, please see TJCTC's webinars on Tech Tools and on using Zoom.

      Here are some ways to protect your Zoom meetings from being hacked: 

      1. Disable Guest Screen Sharing. By restricting screen sharing to the host, you can prevent anyone else from being able to display what is on their desktop.
      2. Require the Host to Be Present.
      3. Keep Your Personal Meeting ID Private.
      4. Use a Password.
      5. Use The Waiting Room.

      Check out these articles for more information

      https://www.inc.com/jason-aten/hackers-are-trying-to-get-into-your-zoom-meetings-here-are-5-ways-to-stop-them.html

      https://www.foxbusiness.com/technology/securely-host-zoom-meetin

    • The Supreme Court of Texas has issued sweeping orders that gives significant authority and latitude to the courts during this emergency situation, prioritizing public safety.

      These orders give courts full power to modify or suspend any deadlines or procedures if necessary to avoid risk for a period ending no later than October 1st for most deadlines and procedures, January 1, 2022, for deadlines and procedures related to pretrial hearings and jury trials. 

      Courts may implement these strategies as needed in order to protect the public, including court staff and parties. Options include extending or modifying deadlines in civil and criminal cases, hearing evidence remotely or via sworn written statement, holding court at other locations within the court's county, requiring all participants in in-person proceedings to comply with social distance protocols and wear a face covering over the nose and mouth; and any other steps necessary to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19.

    • Virtual (or remote) jury trials may be held if the following requirements are met:

      • In criminal cases, the court must consider any objection or motion related to the remote jury trial at least seven days before the proceeding, or as soon as practicable if the motion or objection is made within seven days of the proceeding.
      • Jurors may not be permitted or required to appear remotely unless the court ensures that all potential and selected jurors have access to technology to participate remotely. This can be accomplished either at home or by having the jurors appear at a court-controlled remote location instead of the courtroom or at home.
      • The Office of Court Administration should issue detailed guidance to assist courts wishing to conduct remote jury proceedings and should offer, to the greatest degree possible, assistance to those courts in conducting the remote jury proceedings.

      OCA has published its jury trial guide based on its observations of jury trials. Click here to download the guide

    • Click here to view TJCTC's webinar on Technology Tools that your court or office will find extremely useful during the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to download the accompanying PowerPoint presentation.

      Click here to watch a fun and informative TJCTC webinar on using Zoom to hold remote hearings, including a demo of a remote writ of retrieval hearing.

      Click here for an introductory webinar on how to set up Zoom in your court.

      Click here for a sample Zoom hearing notice and instructions, developed with TJCTC input by the COVID Workgroup. 

      Click here to watch OCA's July 31 webinar on effective remote hearings in justice court. 

      Click here for OCA's benchcard on public access to electronic hearings.

      Click here for Sample Zoom Instructions to send to parties, and see other sample forms in other sections.

      Click here for best practices for Zoom hearings involving self-represented litigants or litigants with disabilities, from Texas Access to Justice.

      Here is a new answer form for use in small claims cases, developed with TJCTC assistance by the Texas COVID-19 Workgroup. This form captures information about the defendant's ability to participate in remote hearings.

  • Guidance for In-Person Proceedings - Updated 7/20/21

    • Under the Supreme Court's Emergency Orders, OCA should issue and update best practices to assist courts with safely and effectively conducting in-person and remote court proceedings. Click here to download OCA's latest guidance on in-person proceedings. (Updated 5/26/21)

      Face Coverings
      The Supreme Court's 40th Emergency Order, along with AG Opinion KP-0322, states that a judge may require all persons who enter his or her courtroom or any other area of the building or facility to conduct or participate in a court proceeding to wear a face covering, practice social distancing, or both.

      OCA, in its best practices, recommends that cloth face coverings, at a minimum, should be encouraged of unvaccinated court participants or individuals planning to enter courtrooms or court-related offices while in the courthouse.

      Any court closure also must be reported to OCA: Information on reporting court closures to OCA

      Other OCA resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    • Justice courts are authorized to resume in-person jury trials. Deadlines and procedures related to in-person jury trials may be suspended through January 1, 2022.

      Additionally, the court must consider any objection or motion related to holding the in-person jury proceeding at least 7 days before the proceeding, or as soon as practicable if the motion is made within 7 days of the proceeding.

      OCA has published its jury trial guide based on its observations of jury trials. Click here to download the guide

    • The Supreme Court of Texas has issued sweeping orders that gives significant authority and latitude to the courts during this emergency situation, prioritizing public safety.

      These orders give courts full power to modify or suspend any deadlines or procedures if necessary to avoid risk for a period ending no later than October 1st for most deadlines and procedures, January 1, 2022, for deadlines and procedures related to pretrial hearings and jury trials. 

      Courts may implement these strategies as needed in order to protect the public, including court staff and parties. Options include extending or modifying deadlines in civil and criminal cases, hearing evidence remotely or via sworn written statement, holding court at other locations within the court's county, requiring all participants in in-person proceedings to comply with social distance protocols and wear a face covering over the nose and mouth; and any other steps necessary to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19.

    • In Opinion No. KP-0322, Attorney General Paxton responded to a request for opinion on the authority of judges to require face coverings in courtrooms, courthouses, and county buildings, and how to resolve differences in separate branch orders that conflict.

      The opinion states that:

      • A commissioners court may require any person entering a courthouse or other county-owned or controlled building to wear a facial covering;
      • A county judge operating under a local disaster order could require a person to wear a facial covering when occupying a courthouse or other county-owned or controlled building;
      • Judges possess broad inherent authority to control orderly proceedings in their courtrooms, and pursuant to that authority, they could require individuals in the courtroom to wear facial coverings;
      • In addition, because of the Supreme Court’s emergency orders requiring all judges to comply with guidance promulgated by the Office of Court Administration, which requires facial coverings by all individuals while in the courthouse, courts may require any person entering the courthouse in which they preside to wear a facial covering while in the courthouse;
      • In addition, public officials may deny entry to those individuals refusing to wear a facial covering; and
      • Issues of conflicting orders issued by various local officials within the same county should be resolved by coordinating with each other. Which official’s order would prevail in any particular circumstance may raise separation of powers issues and would be determined after reviewing the specific orders at issue and the corresponding authority of the public officials to issue those orders.
  • Civil Cases Other Than Residential Evictions - Updated 7/20/21

    • See our in-person and remote hearings guidance sections for details on how to proceed, including the requirement of compliance with the county's mandatory operating plan for any in-person proceedings, as well as jury trial restrictions.

      Click here for a sample Zoom hearing notice and instructions, developed with TJCTC input by the COVID Workgroup. 

      Click here for sample Zoom instructions for parties.

      Additionally, courts are authorized to modify any deadlines or procedures when needed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and must make modifications when necessary to protect the health and safety of court staff or the public. This authorization currently extends through October 1, 2021 for most procedures, and January 1, 2022 for procedures and deadlines related to pretrial hearings and jury trials.

    • Here is a new answer form for use in small claims cases, developed with TJCTC assistance by the Texas COVID-19 Workgroup. This form captures information about the defendant's ability to participate in remote hearings.

    • Judges have asked how to handle weddings during this unique situation. TJCTC believes that judges can perform weddings electronically, as long as all parties are located in Texas. In-person ceremonies should be limited, and must not exceed state and local restrictions on gatherings. 

      TJCTC further believes that the authority to perform weddings via Zoom, as long as all parties are located in Texas, would not expire when the Supreme Court Emergency Orders expire. 

  • Criminal Cases - Updated 7/20/21

    • On March 20, 2020, Gov. Abbott issued an order waiving certain vehicle title and registration requirements. This order expired April 14. After April 14, law enforcement may begin issuing citations to motorists with expired vehicle registrations. There is no grace period after the deadline.

    • Virtual (or remote) jury trials may be held in criminal cases if the following requirements are met:

      • The court must consider any objection or motion related to the remote jury trial at least seven days before the proceeding, or as soon as practicable if the motion or objection is made within seven days of the proceeding.
      • Jurors may not be permitted or required to appear remotely unless the court ensures that all potential and selected jurors have access to technology to participate remotely. This can be accomplished either at home or by having the jurors appear at a court-controlled remote location instead of the courtroom or at home.

      OCA has published its jury trial guide based on its observations of jury trials. Click here to download the guide. 

    • TJCTC has received questions about receiving citations that have not been signed by the defendant, as officers implement social distancing protocols. You can accept those citations, and they are sufficient to institute a case. However, we do not think that they would support a new criminal charge of VPTA if the person does not appear as directed. Instead, we would recommend sending a summons if they do not appear by their appearance date.

      During the pandemic emergency, the summons should direct them to appear electronically or telephonically. If they do not appear in response to the summons, the court could then utilize other tools listed in Chapter 3 of the Criminal Deskbook (with the exception of FTA or VPTA) to secure the defendant’s appearance.

    • As described in our webinar Magistration During the Pandemic, jails can be a source of intense spread of contagious disease, such as COVID-19. For this reason, many counties are suspending execution of fine-only misdemeanor warrants. Additionally, best practice would be to hold off on any capias pro fine show cause hearings, or issuance of commitment orders until the disaster order is lifted. This will help protect the health and safety of jail staff and law enforcement officers, in addition to that of defendants and other inmates.

      As always, use common sense, discretion, and an evaluation of the situation in your locality to determine how to proceed in this area.

    • Questions have come up on how to handle defendants who are unable to immediately pay fines and court costs, since community service may be difficult to perform due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

      TJCTC would certainly encourage any court to use common sense and discretion with regard to community service, such as allowing home-based projects to count as community service. Projects ordered would depend on the offense (for example on alcohol-based offenses, courts have allowed defendants to write papers describing the effects of alcohol, etc.).

       

      TJCTC also encourages courts to waive court costs rather than having defendants perform community service for them. Last session the law changed allowing, but not mandating, waiver of court costs without a finding of undue hardship for community service.

       

      The purpose of court costs is to reimburse the system, not to punish the defendant, and that purpose isn’t accomplished by performance of community service to "work off" court costs. Of course, the fine is punitive, and the court certainly may require community service to satisfy fines unless there is a showing of undue hardship for the defendant to perform community service.

       

      Also remember, the defendant should be released from Omni once they enter into a community service agreement (not once the community service is completed) and the Omni fee is either paid or waived due to indigence. See P. 87 of the Criminal Deskbook.

  • Coronavirus-Related Webinars - Updated 8/1/21

  • Magistration Issues - Updated 4/15/20

    • TJCTC has created 22 bench cards designed for use as a quick and handy reference guide during the magistration process. Download the bench cards here!

    • On March 29, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott issued Executive Order GA-13 prohibiting the release of a defendant on a personal bond if the defendant is currently arrested for (with a finding of probable cause), or was previously convicted of, a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence.

      How Do I Know if The Defendant Has Prior Violence-Related Convictions?
      Convictions should be considered if they are found in criminal history records or contained in the complaint or probable cause affidavit.

      Effect of the Governor’s Order
      The Governor’s Executive Order applies to the following articles of the Code of Criminal Procedure:

      • Art. 17.03 is suspended to the extent necessary to preclude the release on personal bond of any person previously convicted of a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence, or of any person currently arrested for such a crime that is supported by probable cause.

      • Art. 17.151 is suspended to the extent necessary to prevent any person’s automatic release on personal bond because the State is not ready for trial.

      • Art. 15.21 is suspended to the extent necessary to prevent any person’s automatic release on personal bond because the jail of the county where the offense is alleged to have been committed does not take charge of the arrested person before the 11th day after the date the person is committed to the jail of the county in which the person is arrested.

      The Executive Order does not prevent the release of a defendant on a personal bond for any offense other than those involving physical violence or the threat of physical violence, or any offense specifically listed as ineligible for personal bond in Art. 17.03.

      The Order also does not prevent the release of a defendant on a bail bond (either surety or cash bond) nor does it affect the amount of bail a magistrate may set based upon the factors set forth in Art. 17.15.

      The full text of the Executive Order may be viewed here.

      For further information on the above-referenced statutes, on setting bail and bond conditions, and on the difference between a personal bond and a bail bond, please see pages 20-26 of the revised Magistration Deskbook.

      We will advise you of any further developments concerning this Executive Order.

    • Guidelines for Using a Defendant’s Current Criminal History at Magistration

      As explained in this FAQ section, on March 29, 2020, Governor Abbott issued Executive Order GA-13 prohibiting the release of a defendant on a personal bond if the defendant is currently arrested for, or was previously convicted of, a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence.

      One of the questions we posed at the time was how does a magistrate know whether or not a defendant has any such prior convictions?

      In order to assist in this determination, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has issued a Technical Assistance Memorandum requiring that any magistrate who is conducting a magistration, whether in person or by video conference, be provided a copy of the Current Criminal History (“CCH”) of the defendant.

      A copy of the Commission’s memorandum may be viewed here. All of the Technical Assistance published by TCJS may be found at https://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/technical-assistance/.

      Guidelines for Using the CCH:
      The Commission has provided the following guidelines with respect to the distribution and use of this sensitive information:

      1. The CCH may be faxed to the magistrate.
      2. The CCH may be emailed to the magistrate but only to a law enforcement or official government email account (therefore, it cannot be emailed to a gmail, yahoo or other commercial or private account).
      3. If emailed, it must be encrypted in accordance with the Criminal Justice Information System Security Policy.
      4. If the magistrate prints the CCH, it must be destroyed after use or placed in the case file.
      5. Any magistrate who uses video magistration must be given a copy of the guidelines and verify receipt and acknowledgement of these restrictions concerning CCH.

      Suggestions for Compliance:

      1. Use your county email or fax. If you are conducting video magistrations (which we strongly recommend) and do not have those capabilities at home, try to get a fax service set up at your home (your judicial technology fund should cover this) or consult with your county attorney or other county officials concerning secure email service using county email.
      2. If you do receive and print the CCH, destroy it after magistration and make a notation in the file concerning when and how it was destroyed.
      3. If you are not able to obtain the CCH by fax or secure email, then ask the jail staff if they see anything in the defendant’s record that would potentially trigger the Governor’s directive in Executive Order GA-13. If the jail staff indicate they do not see any evidence of a prior conviction of an offense involving physical violence or the threat of physical violence, note that fact in the magistration record.
      4. If you order a defendant released on a personal bond (as opposed to a bail bond), then you should order as a bond condition that the defendant report immediately to CSCD (or another county official or agency, such as the county attorney or sheriff) upon being released from custody and request that CSCD (or other county official) conduct a review of the CCH to confirm that the defendant does not have a prior conviction of an offense involving physical violence or the threat of physical violence. If CSCD (or other county official) indicates that the defendant does have a prior conviction for such an offense, then order a bond modification hearing to determine whether the defendant should be required to post a bail bond rather than a personal bond.
      5. These measures do not apply to any offense for which a defendant is not eligible for release on a personal bond under Art. 17.03.
      6. If you conduct a video magistration, verify receipt and acknowledgement of the Commission’s Guidelines.

      We will advise you of any further developments concerning the CCH Guidelines.

    • 1. Conduct magistrations by two-way video conferencing instead of in person when possible.

      One vendor who provides video magistration products is Net Protec: http://www.videomagistrate.com/.

      Here is some information that the vendor provided to us:

      • “Our service, VideoMagistrate, is a web based video conferencing solution that requires no dedicated video conference hardware while utilizing existing computer webcams and microphones, this means our service can be used anywhere you have internet access. We also take scanned versions of the county's or municipalities' forms and modify them to be used and filled in online. We also have the ability for both the Judge and the inmate to electronically sign the forms eliminating the need to fax any documents for final signature. We also record the entire video session and both the documents and videos are stored on our server for access at any future time.”
      • Here is a video about the service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_VFklXUsmU&feature=youtu.be.
      • Here is a demo video that shows how it all actually works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLkeg-8vYVQ&feature=youtu.be.”
      • Click here to download a flyer for this program. 
      • All inquiries can be sent to sales@videomagistrate.com or you can call (800) 611-6702.

      In addition, the following judges have experience conducting video magistration and have agreed to serve as a resource for anyone who may have questions about the process:

      • Judge Rick Hill, Brazos County: (979) 255-0365
      • Judge Nicholas Chu, Travis County: Direct Office Line: (512) 854-4557 Personal Mobile: (817) 773-6905 Nicholas.Chu@traviscountytx.gov
      • Judge Bob Whitaker, Victoria County: (361) 575-0246  rwhitaker@vctx.org 
      • Judge Michael Roach (county judge, Stephens County):  mroach@stephenscountytx.govPhone: 254-559-2190
      • Judge Deidra Voigt (Gonzales County)
        ddvoigt@co.gonzales.tx.us
        Phone: 830-672-9001
      • Judge Yadi Rodriguez (Hutchinson County), 806-273-0103, Judgerodriguez@hutchinsoncnty.com

      Also see the section on this page about holding remote hearings via Zoom for tips and information.

      2. When setting bail, set personal bonds wherever possible.

      Unless a personal bond is not allowed under Art. 17.03, Code of Criminal Procedure or Gov. Abbott's Executive Order (discussed elsewhere on this page), we suggest you consider setting personal bonds instead of surety bonds. Additionally, you may impose any applicable bond conditions on defendant, which could include testing for the coronavirus and/or self-quarantine. 

      For more information on setting personal bonds and bond conditions, see p. 20 – 26 of our revised Magistration Deskbook, which can be found here: https://www.tjctc.org/tjctc-resources/Deskbooks.html

      Also note that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has sent Technical Assistance Memoranda to all sheriffs and jail administrators. Those memos can be found here and here.

  • Inquest Issues - Updated 4/15/21

    • Judges with questions about the below guidance should email fieldservices@dshs.texas.gov.  

      In April 2020, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) released Guidance for Certifying Deaths Due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) available at https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvss/vsrg/vsrg03-508.pdf. NCHS also provided answers to FAQs from certifiers about how to report deaths due to COVID-19 on death certificates, among other related topics, which can be accessed at https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/covid19/faq.htm. The page has four main sections: How NCHS Collects and Reports Data on Deaths Due to COVID-19, Surveillance of Deaths Due to COVID-19, Coding Deaths Due to COVID-19, and Certifying Deaths Due to COVID-19.

      Certifiers should only report conditions that they determine caused or contributed to death. If the certifier determines COVID-19 is a cause of death, then they should report it on the death certificate. If the certifier determines COVID-19 did not cause or contribute to death, then they should not report it on the death certificate.

      Certifying Deaths Due to COVID-19 Vaccines on Death Certificates

      Like all other causes of death, if the certifier determines that a condition is a cause of death, then they should report it on the death certificate. Like any vaccine, if a certifier determines that a COVID-19 vaccine caused or contributed to death, then they should report it on the death certificate, along with any complications it caused to specify how the vaccine caused death. For example, if the certifier determines a COVID-19 vaccine was the underlying cause of death, then “adverse effects of COVID-19 vaccine” or other similar language should be reported on the lowest line used in Part I with the specific adverse effects on the lines above in a logical sequence. An example of a cause-of-death statement could be “anaphylaxis” on line a. and “allergic reaction to COVID-19 vaccine” on line b. It is the certifier’s responsibility to determine whether there was a causal relationship between any medical condition or medical care, such as a vaccine, and the death. A temporal relationship between a vaccination and death is a necessary but not sufficient condition to indicate a causal relationship. Certifiers should not report medical conditions as causes of death on the death certificate based on only a temporal relationship. As always, personally identifiable information, such as individual names, as well as organization names, including brand names, should not be reported in cause-of-death fields. This guidance is consistent with current procedures for cause-of-death reporting.

    • The Texas Department of State Health Services has issued a priority tier plan for vaccine distribution. Including in the second tier of Phase 1A: "Medical examiners and other medical certifiers who have direct contact with decedents." This would appear to clearly include JPs who conduct inquests.

      Read the vaccine priority plan here.

    • When out on death calls, the judge should always be protecting themselves from the potential spread of COVID-19. One of the ways that they can do that is by wearing appropriate PPE.

      Guidelines That May be Helpful:

      From the CDC: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/respirator-use-faq.html

      From the National Funeral Directors Association: www.nfda.org/covid-19/technical-information

      Medical examiners have suggested JPs should contact their county emergency operating center or emergency coordinator (in many places this is the county judge). The JP may be able to order PPE through them.

      One medical examiner also said that she knows that Amazon and other retailers are stocking masks and disinfectant that they are only selling to medical and governmental entities. The judge can coordinate purchases like this through their county purchasing department, treasurer, or auditor.

      Other potential resources are local law enforcement or emergency medical services. They may be willing to share any extra PPE that they have or let a JP’s office add on to an upcoming bulk order. Many law enforcement suppliers stock PPE that is recommended and may have still have some available.

      It is important to note that PPE is scarce for everyone right now, so be patient, use the resources that you have, and try to work with your county partners to make sure everyone is operating safely.

      Protect yourself with whatever resources you have available. We recognize there is a shortage of masks, gloves, and sanitizers. It’s a good idea to change clothes and wash them after and use Lysol spray or wipes – if available – on surfaces that may have come in contact with suspected contaminated areas.

      Have a plan with first responders so not as many people are entering homes where no foul play is suspected. This may mean that you do not see the body in its final position and are giving permission to move bodies before you get to a scene.

      This is a time when ‘reasonable location’ may mean performing inquests over the phone. The less spread of germs, the better. Use your best judgment and common sense.

      Click here to download the Mass Casualty Incidents information from UH Law & Policy Institute

      Watch a video from a Texas mortuary professional with tips on conducting an inquest during the pandemic. 

      Please see the Autopsies and Testing section under this tab for details on handling bodies.

    • An autopsy may not be ordered to be performed on a COVID-19 death. Code of Criminal Procedure 49.10 (d) … "A justice of the peace may not order a person to perform an autopsy on the body of a deceased person whose death was caused by a communicable disease during a public health disaster."

      However, many labs will perform autopsies in certain situations. Check with the entity that your county contracts with for autopsies to see what their policy is. Additionally, visit our Recordings for Credit page for our Conversations with a Medical Examiner series of webinars.

      CDC Guidance:

      Visit the CDC website on Coding and Certifying COVID-19 Deaths.

      Click here to download the April 2020 guidance on Certifying COVID-19 Deaths. 

      Interim Guidance for Collection and Submission of Postmortem Specimens from Deceased Persons Under Investigation (PUI) for COVID-19, February 2020: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-postmortem-specimens.html

      Interim Guidelines for Collecting, Handling, and Testing Clinical Specimens from Persons for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/lab/guidelines-clinical-specimens.html

    • Transporting the body

      • If there are issues with body transportation – an overwhelmed system or funeral home personnel getting sick – please do not attempt to move the body yourself.

      Cremation

      • From the UH Health & Law Policy institute linked below: “A body or a body part that is subject to an inquest must be disposed according to the directions of the medico-legal authority. The medico-legal authority, for example, may order a disinterment if a body or body part subject to an inquest was buried prior to an investigation. Similarly, a body subject to an inquest may not be cremated unless the body is identified, and the medico-legal authority has issued a signed certificate stating that an autopsy was performed on the body or that an autopsy was unnecessary. A body generally cannot be cremated within 48 hours after the time of death as indicated on the death certificate but may proceed if the death certificate indicates that death was caused by Asiatic cholera, bubonic plague, typhus fever, smallpox, or if the medico-legal authority waives the requirement in writing. During a Public Health Disaster, the DSHS Commissioner may designate other communicable diseases for which cremation within 48 hours of the time of death is authorized.”
    • Visit the CDC website on Coding and Certifying COVID-19 Deaths.

      Click here to download the April 2020 guidance on Certifying COVID-19 Deaths. 

      You may be able to gather information from witnesses that lead you to believe the person died from COVID-19. This may be from family members or there may be a doctor who says they believe that is the cause of death but were unable to test. The symptoms include a spiked fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing.

      If you believe that the death was likely or suspected COVID-19, you should state that in the death certificate: “suspected coronavirus disease” or “suspected COVID-19.” This is important data you are creating that will help with planning for future public health disasters. 

      For deaths due to COVID-19, report COVID-19 in Cause of Death – Part I on the Medical 2 tab. Report other chronic conditions that may have contributed (e.g. COPD, asthma) in Cause of Death – Part II on the Medical 2 tab. See our autopsy section regarding sending suspected or confirmed COVID-19 deaths for autopsy in light of Art. 49.10(d) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

  • Constable Resources - Updated 7/20/21

    • For free information and resources for law enforcement officers struggling with these issues, please visit:
      https://www.sunshinebehavioralhealth.com/resources/police-and-mental-health/.

    • Issuance of Civil Process
      Where necessary to protect the safety of the public, court staff, constables, and constable office staff, courts should hold cases in a manner that protects public health and safety. This means that best practice would be for courts to proceed in a way that ensures constable resources and local conditions permit moving forward with service. 

      Service of Civil Process
      If you have process to serve, we recommend that you take all precautions possible, including protective equipment, maintaining safe distancing, and frequent and thorough hand washing. Seek alternative or mail service wherever possible and allowable. Additionally, seek delays in serving or executing the process if it will allow you to do so safely. Many tasks, such as service of citations, do not have specific guidelines on timeframes that you must follow. Additionally, courts are permitted to extend timeframes and deadlines if necessary for health and safety through October 1.

      Orders of Sale
      If your office has a pending order of sale, public auction might not be able to be reasonably performed until some of the restrictions are lifted. We would recommend contacting the court to either extend the deadlines of the writ of execution if it is still alive under their authority under the Emergency Order, which allows postponement for a period no later than October 1, or to issue a venditioni exponas to allow you to perform the sale outside of the writ's timeframes.

    • The CDC has rated the immediate health risk to law enforcement personnel performing daily routine activities to be low and recommended that they follow the CDC’s Interim General Business Guidance (linked below).

      The reality is that law enforcement officers, like all first responders, hospital workers, and public service providers, can potentially be exposed to infectious diseases at any time during their daily shifts. It is important to remain calm, recall training, and work with other government and health officials to ensure that emergency planning is put into action to protect everyone from unnecessary exposure.

      Protect yourself from exposure

      • If possible, maintain a distance of 6 feet from other people
      • Practice proper hand hygiene
        • Soap and water are preferable, but if they are not readily available use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
        • Wear disposable gloves
      • Do not touch your face with unwashed hands
      • Wear wraparound sunglasses during the day and clear protective eyewear at night
      • Have EMS/EMT assess and transport anyone that you suspect might have COVID-19.
      • Ensure that only trained personnel with appropriate equipment have contact with anyone who has or may have COVID-19
      • Learn your agency’s plan for exposure control and participate in any available training
      • Post information about COVID-19 in your office to inform other officers and the public

      Keep in contact with your courts and other county officials

      • Many courts are requiring that the service of some civil process be stopped for a set amount of time to limit officer’s exposure to COVID-19
      • Jail and arrest policies may be temporarily changed
      • There may be additional county emergency policies and safety plans that constable’s offices must comply with

      If you suspect you came in contact with COVID-19

      • Wash your hands thoroughly
      • Clean and infect your duty belt and other gear prior to reuse
      • Change your clothes if possible and follow standard operating procedures to contain and dispose any disposable PPE
      • Wash clothing in hot water with detergent
      • Consider self-quarantine and communicate related to the exposure with your employer (agency, department, or county officials)

      If you must make contact with individuals confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19

      • Follow CDC’s guidance for Emergency Medical Professionals (link below)
      • If you are in close contact with suspected COVID-19, N95 Respirators or respirators that offer a higher level of protection should be used if possible, if not, N95 or higher-level facemasks
      • Eye protection (goggles or disposable face shield rather than just personal eyeglasses)
      • Disposable gloves and an isolation gown
      • This PPE should be prioritized for persons in high contact, healthcare and first responders to health emergencies, if it is in short supply
    • Lexipol has opened up access to their resources for all law enforcement, not just agencies who pay for their services. Now might be a good time for constable offices to take advantage of these policy and education resources. Their website is https://coronavirus.lexipol.com/.  For information on securing grants to respond to COVID-19, go to https://www.lexipol.com/coronavirus/grant-funding/. Additionally, they have a webinar featuring an expert panel discussing coronavirus issues for law enforcement, which you can view here.

      Click here for the International Law Enforcement Trainers' Association (ILEETA) COVID-19 trainer resource page, with lots of links, videos, and more.

      Click here for a PoliceOne article about COVID-19 procedures.

      Click here for a fact sheet from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

      Click here to watch the video "Coronavirus: What Police Officers Need to Know"

      Click here to watch the video "Is Your Agency Ready for a Pandemic" by risk management expert and Lexipol co-founder Gordon Graham

      Click here to access the Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers from the CDC. 

      Click here to access the CDC document entitled: What Law Enforcement Personnel Need to Know about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) 

      Click here to access the CDC document entitled Interim Guidance for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems and 911 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) for COVID-19 in the United States

      Click here to access OSHA/HHS's Guidance on Workplaces for COVID-19

      PoliceOne website has tips for practice social distancing as a citizen and also special tips for law enforcement agencies. Click here to read the specific tips. 

      Check out this link to read tips for preventing staff from exposure. 

      Click here to read a link about what to do if a staff member has become infected. Quick exposure control can protect the rest of your office and the public. 

  • Court Administration During the COVID-19 Pandemic - Updated 4/3/20

    • See the OCA guidance linked on this page for full information. The FFCRA is a law passed aimed at protecting employees and employers during the pandemic. 

      The law requires you to post this poster in a prominent place. Sending it by email or regular mail to all of your employees will satisfy the posting requirement. The Department of Labor has many resources (click here) that explain the new law and temporary rule. A recorded webinar discussing the new law/rule was posted to the site on April 3rd.

  • Your community looks to the courts and to law enforcement for leadership in times of emergency. We know how seriously you all take your jobs and we want to remind you that self-care and handling stress will be very important for you and your staff in the next few weeks.

    Webinar Opportunity
    Many of you are on the front lines dealing with this crisis. Go to https://info.lexipol.com/webinar-coronavirus-stress-management to view a webinar on managing your stress so that you can continue to effectively serve your community.

    From the Texas State Bar - We are facing a time of uncertainty and, increasingly, isolation. Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP) has collected valuable online support options for anyone feeling isolated and struggling with a mental health issue or needing recovery support. You can view those resources at texasbar.com/remote-well-being.

    TLAP confidentially helps lawyers, judges (including non-lawyer judges), and law students who are concerned for themselves or a colleague with regard to general well-being, mental health, or substance use issues. TLAP can be reached 24 hours a day by calling 800-343-TLAP (8527) or texting TLAP to 555888. Additional resources are available at tlaphelps.org.

    From the CDC - Things you can do to support yourself:

    • Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage of COVID-19.

    • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs.

    • Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. It can be upsetting to hear about the crisis and see images repeatedly. Try to do some other activities you enjoy to return to your normal life.

    • Connect with others. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships.

    • Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking.

    Mental Health Resource for Law Enforcement - https://www.sunshinebehavioralhealth.com/resources/police-and-mental-health/.

    Need to just vent or to be heard? Contact us. (jessforeman@txstate.edu) We are here for you. ❤ TJCTC

  • Click here for a site with live worldwide updated statistics, including filterable graphs.

    Click here for the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus site and map.

    Click here for DSHS information on COVID-19 in Texas, including county-by-county

    Gov. Abbott and Matthew McConaughey PSA video