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What Happens If People Violate Shelter in Place Orders

About fifteen states have issued shelter in place orders as of March 25, 2020. Despite these orders, crowds of party goers descended on California beaches and parks in defiance of the state order to avoid close contact with others.  In response, several California cities, including Los Angeles and Santa Monica, closed their parks and beaches.

On the other side of the country, similar crowds went to the beaches of Florida for spring break. Soon thereafter, at least five students from the University of Tampa tested positive for coronavirus after returning from their beach parties.

Although the state of Texas has yet to issue a shelter in place order, local city officials in Austin and Houston have already made such orders. Nevertheless, many Texans in the cities are still dining in restaurants.

How is this Being Enforced?

Most enforcement is aimed at businesses. After Spring Break increased the number of coronavirus cases, California and Florida closed the beaches and local businesses. Law enforcement primarily inspect restaurants and bars to ensure compliance, though few citations have been issued thus far.

Enforcement for individual compliance is primarily voluntary at this stage, but orders may be enforced if individuals continue to defy the orders. For instance, a Manhattan Beach surfer was fined $1,000 this weekend for violating a beach closure order. New Jersey Police also broke up a party for violating the state’s shelter orders.

What If I Violate a Shelter in Place Order?

Thus far, most shelter-in-place orders have relied on voluntary compliance. However, stricter measures may become necessary if people don’t obey orders and the pandemic continues. Proposals for compliance may include fines and jail time. Additional measures, such as curfews and pulling licenses would serve as additional deterrents.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Shelter in Place Order?

Most shelter in place orders make exceptions for grocery shopping, exercise, and medical emergencies provided that a safe distance be maintained from others at all times (generally six feet).

Non-essential work must cease and/or be conducted remotely. Essential work is exempt from most shelter orders, including professions in medicine, law enforcement, grocery clerks, airline travel, and public transportation.

Please note that shelter orders are made at the local and state level and thus there are no uniform rules regarding exemptions. For instance, some states or counties might exempt gun stores from their shelter orders while others may not.

Is There a Religious Exemption to the Shelter in Place Order?

Churches are unlikely to obtain an exemption from the shelter orders. One megachurch pastor at the River at Tampa Bay Church was recently arrested in Florida for violating Tampa County’s shelter orders when he opened the church doors to hundreds of partisans.

The pastor was charged with misdemeanor counts of unlawful assembly and violation of the public health rules. A pastor in Louisiana has defied a similar health order by holding a 500-person service, though the state government has yet to take any action in response.

The Tampa Bay Church disputed the shelter orders in a public statement arguing that churches should be exempt from such orders as an essential service. However, state authorities have pointed out that the megachurches are capable of running services online without any restrictions on their right to free exercise.

Do I Need an Attorney If I Am Charged for Violating a Shelter In Place Order?

With the ongoing pandemic crisis evolving daily, governments will face more pressure to ensure that the coronavirus doesn’t spread. However, a global pandemic does not mean the government can violate your constitutional rights.

A criminal defense attorney can make sure you know all your rights, that they are being protected, and will know the best strategies to help you get the best outcome possible in your case.

Jason Cheung

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