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Individual Rights and Navigating Court Proceedings During COVID-19

Virtual Court

To lower the risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas courts have changed their operations to protect the health and safety of the public. The following 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. This article tells you how to ask the judge for a continuance and includes the necessary forms. 

Texas A&M University School of Law has created the following video explaining how to electronically file (E-File). eFileTexas has published a FAQ here. The Harris County District Clerk's office has also curated these resources.

Can I attend court by telephone or videoconference?

Due to this pandemic, you may find it difficult for you or your attorney to participate in a family court hearing. 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 (via Zoom). Read more about court by telephone and virtual/video courtThe Office of Court Administration has compiled many resources about virtual hearings: 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. See Application for a Ballot by Mail at the website of the Texas Secretary of State. Read more information here.

What can I do if I encounter price gouging or scams related to COVID-19?

Do I have the right to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

According to Disability Rights Texas, it’s 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 their video, You Have a Right to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine.

What resources are available for persons with disabilities?

What could happen if I refuse to self-quarantine?

If infected patients refuse to self-quarantine, there’s a legal process to force them into isolation. 

In this situation, a county attorney, district attorney, or the Texas Office of the Attorney General will seek an emergency ex parte court order from a district judge to force the patient into quarantine. The next day, the court must hold a full due process hearing to continue the person’s quarantine. These hearings can be held at any time or day. District judges across the state have been assigned to hear quarantine proceedings under Chapter 81 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. These judges have received specific training on the proceedings. It is the Office of Court Administration's expectation that these judges will be able to handle the cases that come in, no matter the court in which the proceedings are filed. Read more information here.

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?

My city or county has issued a "shelter-in-place" or "stay-at-home" order. What does that mean?

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.
  • 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 April 29, 2020, Governor Abbott temporarily suspended a statute concerning appearance before a notary public to acknowledge real-estate instruments such as 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.

Where can I find resources for sexual assault survivors?

I have a contract issue due to COVID-19. What are my options?