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Looting After Hurricane Harvey

Published: Oct 03, 2017 in Criminal Defense

Along with any natural disaster comes the fear of looting – people stealing products from stores during and right after the emergency. Panic arose during Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall on August 25 as a Category 4 hurricane with winds upward of 130 mph. Harvey caused up to 61 inches of rainfall in some areas, causing massive flooding throughout parts of Texas and Louisiana. There have been accounts of looting after Harvey, and even video that seems to suggest robberies and theft. However, experts say the fear of a crime wave after a disaster is far greater than the amount of crime that actually occurs.

If you have been accused of committing a crime during a state of emergency, contact an experienced Houston property crimes attorney as soon as possible. While you and your family focus on your health and safety after a hurricane or massive flood, you must also face these charges and do everything you can to mount the strongest defense possible.

By working with The Law Offices of Ned Barnett, you gain legal counsel who will aggressively protect your rights and fight for your freedom. Call today at (713) 222-6767 to schedule your free and confidential case consultation.

Harsher Penalties for Crimes Committed During an Emergency

Looting is not a statutory offense under Texas law. However, certain criminal acts that take place during a state of emergency come with harsher statutory punishments. Based on Texas Penal Code Section 12.50, the punishment for certain offenses committed in an area that has been declared a state of disaster or is subject to an emergency evacuation order is based on the next category higher. For instance, if the offense is originally a class C misdemeanor, it may be punished as a class B misdemeanor offense. Or if a crime was a state jail felony, it may be punished as a third-degree felony.

The harsher punishments are specifically for:

  • Assault, Section 22.01
  • Robbery, Section 29.02
  • Burglary, Section 30.02
  • Theft, Section 31.03

If you are charged with an assault or theft offense that is punishable as a class A misdemeanor, then the minimum duration for incarceration is increased to 180 days. However, if you are charged with a burglary or theft offense that is punishable as a first-degree felony, then the punishment for the offense is not increased.

Looting After Hurricane Harvey

There have only been a few valid reports of looting after Hurricane Harvey. However, in fear and preparation of potential crime, Houston imposed a curfew and brought in additional police officers from other areas after Harvey made landfall. Harris County and other county officials have made it clear that criminal activity during and immediately following the disaster would not be tolerated. If anyone was caught committing a crime, they would face significant punishments. The Harris County district attorney’s office reported that 63 people were charged with hurricane-related crimes between August 26 and August 30.

Defending Yourself Against Looting Charges

What some people may call looting, others call survival. During emergencies such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, you may need to search for food and water before you and your family can be rescued or find appropriate shelter. If you were arrested and charged with theft or burglary when you were in search of clean food, bottled water, feminine hygiene products, diapers, formula, or other necessities during Hurricane Harvey, contact The Law Offices of Ned Barnett immediately.

Necessity is a justification to criminal conduct under Texas Penal Code Section 9.22. To successfully use this as a defense, we must be able to show that:

  • You reasonably believed your conduct was immediately necessary to avoid imminent harm
  • The desirability and urgency of avoiding the harm that could come to you at that time clearly outweighed, according to ordinary standards of reasonableness, the harm the law sought to avoid by prohibiting your conduct
  • The legislative purpose to exclude the justification claim for the conduct does not otherwise appear

If attorney Ned Barnett can prove to a judge or jury that your actions were necessary to prevent you from harm and were reasonable under the circumstances, you may be able to avoid a conviction.

Contact Our Houston Criminal Defense Lawyers Today

Tensions run high during natural disasters, and many people are afraid that other individuals will ill-intent will take advantage of the situation and police distraction. However, panic over potential looting and criminal activity often does more harm than good. It can often lead to people facing criminal charges while they are attempting to care for themselves and their families.

If you have been accused of committing a crime during or in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, contact experienced Houston criminal defense attorney Ned Barnett right away.

Call The Law Offices of Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767 to schedule a free, initial consultation.