“Just think, one day we’ll look back and say that these were the ‘good ‘ol days…’.” At least that’s how the joke goes. But on April 9, 2020, it’s not so funny; I don’t think anyone will ever look back upon right now and think of the Pandemic of 2020, as the “good ‘ol days.”
In early January of this year a strain of the common coronavirus had mutated into a form never seen nor encountered before; a novel coronavirus identified as COVID19. By March 11th, the spread of COVID19 was designated by the World Health Organization as a “pandemic,” or when a disease becomes prevalent over an entire country, or the world. Unfortunately, COVID19 would eventually become a global pandemic.
Spring Break in Travis County began March 16th, but by the time students were letting out, school officials had already set in motion for it to be extended for a second week, and possibly reverting to online classes only once the students “returned.” By March 24th, a “shelter in place” order had been issued for central Texas, which now faces a further extension as Federal authorities recognize the need for an extended period of social distancing. By April 3d, the Austin Independent School District had cancelled school indefinitely.
We appreciate the hardships a “shelter in place” order imposes; we appreciate the impact on our community, the economy, and more importantly, upon each of us as family members. Life can be difficult; the relationships we have with our family and loved ones can be strained under the best of circumstances, and these times are far from the best of circumstances. We stand in long lines waiting to get into the grocery store, having to stand on red stickers on the sidewalk keeping us six feet apart, only to find once we get in that the shelves are bare. We worry about providing for our family as we stand in line with people wearing masks and gloves, and we worry if the simple act of buying groceries will lead to an infection we might not survive.
These are times that we have never seen; and as we all band together, trying to make sense of it all, we suffer a quiet, unspoken stress. And stress is never good; there is never a benefit, an upside, or advantage of suffering from stress. And now, as we face layoffs, “furloughs,” and an uncertain future, we’re forced to stay at home cooped up with our families.
We feel the same stress; we all have families and are as confined as everyone else. We feel the tensions, we feel the anger, and we feel the pressure that builds. As a child I watched my mother prepare a meal in a “pressure cooker,” a heavy pot with a lid that locked into place, and a valve on the very top with a loose-fitting cap that teetered back and forth as steam escaped from its underside. Only years later did I appreciate that valve, the release valve, the value that bled some of the pressure from inside the cooker. As we sit in our homes, fearful and hiding from an enemy that we can’t even, we look for ways to release the pressure, to “let off steam.”
In our office Gene has worked tirelessly updating our website and trying to keep clients informed, and we all strive to work remotely from home (though in truth there tends to be someone at our office more days of the week than not). But we understand; we understand the difficulty of “sheltering-in-place.”
We understand the dogs constantly barking (dogs you yourself may not have even wanted), the kids demanding of your time as you worry about bills and the way your spouse spends money faster than you can make it. Soon you learn to live with your head down, trying not to speak unless spoken to, limiting your answers to “yes” or “no” to avoid any further conflict. And now, perhaps for the first time ever, you’re confined 24/7 to an environment best taken only a few hours at a time.
There did use to be a “good ‘ol days” though, a bunch of them in fact. When I began to practice law as a prosecutor 33 years ago, Assault / Family Violence cases were treated differently; so differently in fact, that there was no such thing as Assault “Family Violence,” it was simply an assault case like any other. Officers would often arrive at a house with a report of “domestic dispute,” only to tell both parties they needed to calm down, and that if they had to come back, “someone’s going to jail.” Also in those good ‘ol days our rules of evidence recognized a “spousal privilege,” whereby an alleged victim/spouse, could simply refuse to testify against the other spouse. Typically a defense attorney would get an “affidavit of non-prosecution” from the alleged victim/spouse, stating that they weren’t going to testify against their spouse/defendant, and that would be the end of the case. Prosecutors would make a copy of the affidavit for the file and dismiss the charge.
But those good ‘ol days didn’t last. As the years went by we saw a shift in the law and the way law enforcement handled what were once thought of as “domestic disputes.” As the years went by we saw more and more cases in which officers had left the scene of a domestic disturbance only to be called back after a serious assault or injury had occurred.
The “spousal privilege” of a spouse not being compelled to testify was abolished, prosecutors began to focus on the “cycle of violence” some victims seemed to fall in to, and here in Travis County, County Court at Law Number Four was created. County Court Four was designated as a special court to handle only Assault cases in which the alleged victim was a spouse, or fit the definition of “family member,” which could even include someone with whom the accused had a prior dating relationship. Unlike a regular Assault case, an “Assault/Family Violence” case is a crime of moral turpitude, and a second offense is elevated to a third-degree felony. The nuances of the law are too many to discuss here, but we remain available for consultation during these times, and to immediately begin representation of those in need.
Now is not the time to be arrested, or placed into custody; now is not the time to be housed in close proximity to a large group of people, and there is never a good time to be convicted of Assault/Family Violence. While the courthouse is effectively closed for all but essential court proceedings, and we may continue to shelter in place, we are still available 24/7 for consultations, to secure a release from jail, and to begin representation.
We also appreciate the financial hardships the coronavirus has placed upon so many; stores are closing, business has dwindled, and consequently employers have laid off or furloughed many of their employees. We understand, and our part in fighting this pandemic is to refuse to let someone’s financial burdens prevent them from hiring the best lawyers they can afford. We never want price, or legal fees to get in the way of someone wanting to hire us. We’ll work with you to the fullest extent we can in making our representation affordable during these hard times.
Lastly, being arrested, charged, and prosecuted is frightening; stepping into the criminal justice system and resolving your case can have serious consequences. While a court-appointed lawyer sounds good sitting in jail, and the thought of having a free lawyer may sound appealing, some will argue that legal representation is not something to take lightly nor an expense you want to skimp on. If you have thoughts, questions, or concerns, call or email us at your convenience. And if you are in need of legal representation, we’d welcome the opportunity to visit with you and see how we can be of service.