The Harris County Attorney’s Office is using the civil courts to reduce crime in places of business that are known nuisances. In this way they are penalizing the business owners but allowing them to get their businesses in compliance rather than criminalizing them. Though not all business owners are convinced it’s a good move, their neighbors see otherwise.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the County Attorney’s Office has thus far targeted four local business owners, all of which run businesses that seem to draw questionable crowds. One, the Los Reiles Club had police called more than 100 times within the first seven weeks of 2012.
These businesses may be frequented by drug dealers, be known for violence, or have prostitutes loitering on their premises. The civil actions require them to get in compliance or face losing their business.
The police don’t raid the business, nor are any arrests made of business owners. Instead, the owners are served with papers requiring their presence in court. “That means you can clean up the location, and not put people in jail,” said Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard. “You’re getting people to comply with the law. If they don’t, they’re shut down and they lose a lot of income.”
One business owner, Jae Kim, who owns the property where the Downtown Tigermart convenience store operates, was forced to get in compliance. He doesn’t own the store, but leases the property to the store owner. Therefore it was his responsibility to fix lighting on the property, install working cameras, and hire a certified peace officer for security in the evenings.
Just because the County Attorney is targeting business owners with civil suits doesn’t mean that patrons and even business owners won’t face possible arrest for illegal actions. On the contrary, if law enforcement can arrest you for a law violation, they typically will.
For example, if you own a dance club and the cops are frequently called about fights and shootings, all of the patrons suspected of involvement in such crimes are, of course, subject to arrest where probable cause is present. But, under the County Attorney’s new push, you are also subject to civil court proceedings where you will need to make changes in order to ensure your business is a safe environment and not the cause of criminal matters in the community.
The differences between civil court matters and criminal court matters can seem confusing. However, if you are accused of an offense and facing potential jail time, your case is a criminal matter which may require the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer.