Individual Rights and Navigating Court Proceedings During COVID-19
Disclaimer: Some of the information in this article may no longer be accurate or apply to your specific situation.
To lower the risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas courts changed their operations to protect the health and safety of the public. This article provides self-help information on participating in court proceedings remotely, delaying hearings, consumer protection issues, voting rights, immigrant rights, disability rights, rights of sexual assault survivors, and other applicable individual rights.
What can I do if I need more time to get ready for a court hearing or trial?
If you need more time to get ready for a court hearing or trial, you may be able to get a continuance. A continuance changes the date of a court hearing or trial to a later date. Read How to Ask for a Continuance for more information and access to forms.
Texas A&M University School of Law created the following video explaining how to electronically file (E-File). eFileTexas has a FAQ section answering questions about efiling for you to review. The Harris County District Clerk's office also curated a FAQ and information page answering common efiling questions.
Can I attend court by telephone or videoconference?
Some courts are continuing to conduct hearings by telephone or videoconference (via Zoom or another platform). It is recommended to contact the court that you are scheduled to appear in and ask if you can make an appearance (that is, participate) by telephone or videoconference. Read more about court by telephone and virtual/video court. The Office of Court Administration has compiled many resources about virtual hearings called Zoom Information and YouTube Support.
What are my voting rights when it comes to early voting and absentee voting by mail?
You can vote by mail if you are age 65 or older; disabled; out of the county on election day and during early voting; or in jail but otherwise eligible. You can get an Application for a Ballot by Mail on the Texas Secretary of State website. Read more about Voting in Texas with tools and tips.
- See Voting During COVID-19 for more information.
- You can also check the League of Women Voters' website for the latest information on voting during COVID-19.
What can I do if I encounter price gouging or scams related to COVID-19?
Read Coronavirus Scams and Price Gouging for information.
Do I have the right to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
According to Disability Rights Texas, it is your right to have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. In most cases, if you want to get the vaccine, you can. No one can keep you from getting it just because you have a disability or need extra help. Watch DRTX's video, You Have a Right to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine.
What resources are available for persons with disabilities?
Read Disability Rights and COVID-19 for information and resources.
What could happen if I refuse to self-quarantine?
There is currently no law requiring someone to self-quarantine or isolate if they contract COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued recommendations for people who are sick or exposed to COVID-19, but they do not have any legal process to enforce the protocols.
As of December 2021, if you contract COVID-19 the CDC recommends you self-isolate for at least 5 days after testing positive. If you continue to have symptoms, you should isolate for an additional 5 days. You can read the CDC's Isolation and Precautions on their website.
What resources are available for immigrants? Will accessing health services affect my immigration status?
For information and resources for immigrant communities during this crisis, see Resources for Immigrants.
Legal Aid of Northwest Texas has created the following presentation focused on COVID-19's impact on the immigrant community. Their staff answers immigrant questions related to USCIS' hours of operation, eligibility for public benefits, COVID-19 tests, and President Trump's executive order regarding immigration.
Under the law, everyone is eligible for testing and treatment of communicable diseases, including coronavirus (COVID-19). This includes people without legal immigration status. Vaccines for communicable diseases are also available to everyone. This is true no matter your immigration status. If a vaccine is developed for coronavirus, you and your family members should be able to get it, even if you don't have legal immigration status. For more information on this, read Immigrant Rights and Access to Health Care during COVID-19.
What resources are available for veterans?
For more information and resources for veterans and their families, you can read Veterans and COVID-19.
My city or county has issued a "shelter-in-place" or "stay-at-home" order. What does that mean?
Notice: There are currently no shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders in place as of December 14, 2022.
Shelter-in-place orders or stay-at-home orders are issued during emergencies that pose a physical threat to the public. These orders have been issued for active shooter situations, plant fires, hurricanes, and floods, among other incidents.
These orders are not total lockdowns, and federal law allows each state or city to decide its own rules when mandating residents stay home. Generally, each order includes some exceptions that permit residents to leave their homes. Residents typically can leave if they're performing "essential" activities such as grocery shopping, going to the doctor, providing childcare or eldercare, or exercising while practicing safe social distancing. Read here for information on how child visitation and exchanges are affected by these shelter-in-place orders.
Certain businesses deemed essential—such as grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, and doctor's offices—are typically allowed to stay open. Employees of those businesses can leave their residences to go to work. Additionally, places with "stay at home" orders have allowed restaurants to keep delivery and takeout operations going. Some of these orders state that violations may result in monetary fines or jail time, but often law enforcement agents will exercise their discretion on whether someone will be charged.
- You can visit your county and city website for COVID-19 details and updates.
- Texas RioGrande Legal Aid has also published this FAQ on shelter-in-place orders and curfews.
I am having issues having my documents notarized right now. What are my options?
- Texas law currently allows for remote notarizations. Online notaries can be used to notarize via two-way video and audioconferencing.
- Another option is the use of an unsworn declaration. An unsworn declaration may be used in place of a written sworn declaration, verification, certification, oath, or affidavit required by statute or required by a rule, order, or requirement adopted as provided by law. This provision does not apply to an oath of office or an oath required to be taken before a specified official other than a notary public.
- An unsworn declaration can replace the requirement for a notary in some cases. But unsworn declarations cannot be used—except for inmates—as a way to swear under oath that you are waiving service of process in other case types (mostly family law matters such as divorces, emancipations, name changes, and custody suits).
- Read more on unsworn declarations and access forms.
On April 8, 2020, Governor Abbott temporarily suspended certain statutes concerning appearance before a notary public to execute a self-proved will, a durable power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, a directive to physician, or an oath of an executor, administrator, or guardian. These suspensions temporarily allow for appearance before a notary public via videoconference when executing such documents, avoiding the need for in-person contact during the COVID-19 pandemic. This suspension will remain in effect until terminated by the Office of the Governor or until the March 13, 2020 disaster declaration is lifted or expires. Documents executed while this suspension is in effect, and in accordance with its terms, will remain valid after the termination of this suspension. On November 18, 2022, Governor Abbott renewed the disaster proclamation, leaving the temporary suspension in effect.
On April 29, 2020, Governor Abbott temporarily suspended a statute on appearance before a notary public to acknowledge real-estate instruments like mortgages. This suspension temporarily allows for appearance before a notary public via videoconference when executing such documents, avoiding the need for in-person contact during the COVID-19 pandemic. This suspension will remain in effect until the earlier of May 30, 2020, or until the March 13, 2020 disaster declaration is lifted or expires. Documents executed while this suspension is in effect, and in accordance with its terms, will remain valid after the termination of this suspension. On November 18, 2022, Governor Abbott renewed the disaster proclamation, leaving the temporary suspension in effect.
Where can I find resources for sexual assault survivors?
You can read Information for Survivors of Sexual Assault During COVID-19 for resources and contact information.
I have a contract issue due to COVID-19. What are my options?
Read Contracts and COVID-19 for information on contracts and how they can be affected by events beyond your control.
I need a continuance.
How to Ask for a ContinuanceThis article explains how to ask for a continuance.
Voting During COVID-19Know your rights and the law for voting during COVID-19.
Resources for Immigrants during COVID-19This article provides information on resources for immigrants during covid-19 and how the issue of public charge might affect the ability of immigr...
Information for Survivors of Sexual Assault During COVID-19In this article, learn about resources for survivors of sexual assault during COVID-19.