Along with the serious health risks associated with coronavirus, Americans are burdened by quarantine orders and similar directives that forbid them from seeing their loved ones, even for major events such as holidays and birthdays. It can be tempting to try to break the rules, especially for people who believe that they don’t fall into the one of the common risk groups. News reports have documented spring breakers, shoppers and churchgoers who have ignored the CDC guidelines and admonitions from healthcare experts and orders executed by most states to “stay at home” except to buy food or medicine. That behavior has led many governors to issue a range of penalties for those who violate executive orders.
Although the medical consensus is practically unanimous regarding the need to avoid coming into contact with others, the legal ramifications of violating a stay-at-home order or a similar government provision are more varied. If you are concerned about potential punishment for hosting a gathering at your home, understanding these legal standards might be useful:
- State law controls — As we’ve seen, quarantine is a police power that is reserved to the states. Though the federal government can take measures to stop international and interstate travel, most of the actual rule-making and enforcement is left to state authorities. In a culture dominated by national media, this ability for each state to formulate its own solution can cause confusion.
- Civil sanctions — Local health authorities in many states have the ability to isolate and even detain people who pose a risk to their community. Sometimes, there is a limit on how long an infected person can be held. Massachusetts has a rule stating that if someone is unable to work because they were prohibited from leaving home by their board of health, they are entitled to three-quarters of the compensation they lost. This is a very old law though, and the payment is capped at $2 for each working day.
- Criminal penalties — Numerous states make violating a quarantine or similar charges a misdemeanor crime. Given the lethal nature of COVID-19, prosecutors might also allege another type of offense that fits the circumstances. In New Jersey, a married couple who hosted a party in front of their home after the state’s order banning social gatherings was issued was charged with five counts of child endangerment.
There is never a good time to get arrested and face prosecution, but with serious concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in detention facilities, your health could depend on avoiding incarceration. An accomplished criminal defense lawyer can safeguard your fundamental rights whether you’re facing legal problems linked to a quarantine violation or another type of alleged offense.
Contact a criminal defense lawyer to learn about your rights
Jack B. Swerling advocates on behalf of clients who have been accused of criminal offenses. For a consultation regarding your case, please call 800-701-0599 or contact the firm online.