How Can Someone Be Punished if They Violate a COVID-19 Stay at Home Order?
Across the country, stay-at-home orders have strained law enforcement and tested how far states and municipalities are willing to go to enforce the orders. These directives have triggered controversy and confusion, as standards sometimes differ from town to town or county to county. In certain instances, people who have violated government edicts designed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus are facing fines and possible jail time.
During this unprecedented time when governors are declaring states of emergency and frequently following up with additional restrictions, such as beach and park closures, what are the consequences of violating these orders? Different jurisdictions take different approaches, but throughout the United States, people who are even considering venturing out should be aware of:
- Jail time and fines — Most states have limited even small gatherings, leading to the cancellation of religious services and nearly every other event were a crowd could assemble. Violating social distancing restrictions can result in steep fines and incarceration. Hawaii, Maryland and other states have threatened fines as high as $5,000 and up to a year in jail.
- Self-quarantine orders — Though President Trump backed off a quarantine plan that would prevent residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut from visiting other states, some governors have targeted individuals who are coming from COVID-19 hotspots. Texas Governor Greg Abbott is requiring people from some U.S. locations to self-quarantine for 14 days if they enter Texas or face criminal penalties.
- What type of travel is considered essential — Though most people can leave their residence to buy food or medicine, attend a medical appointment or go to work, other types of travel could lead to punishment. Even people who try to stretch the rules by heading to a religious function or family event might face sanctions. If you are unsure about whether a particular outing is permissible, you can check with a government website.
Law enforcement is handing out warnings, issuing summonses and arresting violators — anything to convince residents that stay-at-home orders are just that. If you or a loved one is facing a quarantine-related charge, consult a reputable, experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.