AM I GETTING ARRESTED IF I LEAVE THE HOUSE?
The law of the New Jersey Stay at Home Order (aka: the “Quarantine”)
We are all hearing about the government’s response to the COVID-19 virus. Most people are generally aware that some states, such as New Jersey, have ordered residents to stay inside and practice social distancing. Many of our clients are asking two (2) basic questions:
- What exactly did the Governor order?
- What’s going to happen to me if I leave the house?
WHAT EXACTLY DID THE GOVERNOR ORDER?
On March 21, 2020, Governor Murphy issued two (2) executive orders pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the executive orders (EO 107) generally directs all residents to remain in their homes unless they are going to and from very specific events. The second executive order (EO 108) declared EO 107 to supersede any local or county directives that conflict with the Governor’s Order.
EO 107 prohibits residents from leaving their homes except in the following circumstances:
- Obtaining goods or services from “essential retail businesses”;
- Obtaining takeout food or beverages from restaurants, other dining establishments, or food courts;
- Seeking medical attention, essential social services, or assistance from law enforcement or emergency services;
- Visiting family or other individuals with whom the resident has a close personal relationship, such as those for whom the individual is a caretaker or romantic partner;
- Reporting to, or performing, their job;
- Walking, running, operating a wheelchair, or engaging in outdoor activities with immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners while following best social distancing practices with other individuals, including staying six feet apart;
- Leaving the home for educational, religious, or political reason;
- Leaving because of a reasonable fear for his or her safety; or
- Leaving at the direction of law enforcement or other government agency.
The Order goes on to direct individuals to practice social distancing and also restricts public transportation as a resource of last resort. Also, the Order cancels “parties, celebrations, or other social events.”
With respect to businesses, the Order establishes a list of fifteen (15) categories of businesses that can remain open. The list includes grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, gas stations, medical marijuana dispensaries and liquor stores. Restaurants are limited to take out and casinos and gyms are also closed.
Most employers were ordered to accommodate their employees with telework or work-from-home arrangements. Where telework is not possible employers are ordered to make best efforts to reduce the number of staff on site. Finally, the Order closed most schools for the foreseeable future.
AM I GETTING ARRESTED FOR LEAVING THE HOUSE?
The short answer is probably not. Most of the reasons any of us would have to leave the house right now (grocery shopping, visiting a loved one, getting medical treatment) are exempted in the Order. The Governor and State Attorney General did threaten prosecution of those that violate the Order, but their comments appear to be directed at businesses that have failed to close or restrict their services to carry-out.
What could a violator be charged with if they are caught? That’s a difficult question to answer and likely depends upon the circumstances. At a minimum, violators could be charged with Disorderly Conduct, which is a petty disorderly persons offense wherein a person is guilty if they “with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof … create a hazardous or physically dangerous condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.” While the Attorney General noted the possibility of more serious charges, he did not specifically identify them.
How can you avoid any risk of criminal liability? First, don’t start, join or go to any social gatherings or parties. The Governor has consistently denounced large unnecessary gatherings. This includes Birthdays, Sweet 16, Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s, neighborhood barbeques and weddings. (Funerals are also included.) Second, if you are a business owner do your best to confirm that your establishment is complying with the Order. You can call your local police department or local government office. Finally, make attempts to generally comply with the restrictions that public health officials are recommending: Social distancing and wash your hands.
While most law enforcement officials are focusing on public safety, don’t assume that just because you were charged with violating the Governor’s Order you are guilty. If you or someone you know has questions about the Governor’s Order and how your traveling may be affected, feel free to contact Rosenberg Perry & Associates. We are all in this together and we are here to help.
Rosenberg | Perry and Associates, LLC are NJ lawyers who always have your back. Feel free to call us at 609-216-7400 if you have any questions.