Because of COVID-19, courts are reducing their docket and access to justice has been diminished. At the same time, the number of emergency protective orders are on the rise. Many sources show the number of domestic violence cases is increasing.
Increased Case Filings
As an example, the San Antonio Police Department released numbers showing a 21% increase in family violence calls from 2019 to 2020, year to date (Jan. 1 through April 7, 2019 and 2020).
Local experts predict a surge in domestic violence because of stay at home measures to combat coronavirus, and there are signs it has already begun. The CEO of SafeHaven Tarrant County, Kathryn Jacob, said calls to the agency’s hotline started to increase in mid-March. Now, for the first time in more than 40 years, SafeHaven reports that they will not be able to accept new domestic violence victims at the organization’s Tarrant County shelters.
While more people are being charged with assault family violence and kicked out of their homes, the ability to get into court to fight these charges and orders has become more difficult.
Limited Access to Courts
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure allows the court to modify, in some cases to rescind (revoke, cancel, or repeal), a protective order. However, the access to courts has been substantially limited during the pandemic. Throughout the state, courthouses are closing or drastically limiting the business conducted.
The Tarrant County judges decided that, beginning Monday, March 16, 2020, there will be no new jury trials and reduced dockets until April 20, 2020. The decision impacts criminal district courts, county criminal courts, and Tarrant County Justice of the Peace courts.
As of this post, April 10, 2020, the Fort Worth Municipal Courts are closed to the public.
This is a time that people most need to be with their families. Also, during the economic decline and lack of services, court orders kicking people out of their homes cause more damage than ever.
Dismissed or Modified During the Pandemic
A magistrate’s order for emergency protection issued under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 17.292 can be modified by the issuing court after notice to each affected party and a hearing. To modify the order, the judge has to find:
- the order as originally issued is unworkable;
- the modification will not place the victim of the offense at greater risk than did the original order; and
- the modification will not in any way endanger a person protected under the order.
Getting an EPO lifted or modified can be difficult under normal circumstances. Getting any kind of relief during this pandemic takes an extraordinary amount of work. You need to act quickly and be very organized.
If you want to drop or modify a protective order, practically, it will be very difficult to get access to a prosecutor or judge. Your best option is almost certainly to contact a criminal defense attorney to get a petition for modification filed and seek out a judge or magistrate to hold a hearing.
You need pleading drafted and affidavits executed immediately. Then the lawyer needs to be familiar with Tarrant County and Fort Worth practices to get access to a decision maker. This may mean your lawyer has to physically go to the courthouse and walk around until a judge is found. Conditions, policies, and rules are changing daily. You cannot waste any time.
How long is the EPO in effect?
The duration of the effect should be specifically stated in the order, and you should abide by the order. An order for emergency protection issued under Article 17.292 is effective from the moment the judge signs it.
An order for emergency protection issued for misdemeanor assault or felony family violence should remain in effect up to the 61st day but not less than 31 days after the date the judge signs the order. However, if a person is accused of the use or exhibition of a deadly weapon during the commission of an assault, then the order remains in effect up to the 91st day but not less than 61 days after the date the judge signs the order.