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Tracking Enforcement Measures for Violation of Stay-at-Home Orders

A member of the Metropolitan Police Department closes off areas surrounding the Washington Monument and National Mall due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19, March 2020.

This list will be periodically updated to account for recent developments. It was last updated on April 17, 2020. Click here to view the related column: “The Enforcement of COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Orders.”

Many jurisdictions across the United States have issued COVID-19-related stay-at-home directives that include a variety of enforcement measures, from warnings to civil enforcement to criminal punishment. As the pandemic has progressed, there has been a notable increase nationwide in the number of reports of police enforcement action, raising concerns about overcriminalization. The following list provides examples of how various jurisdictions are enforcing these social distancing orders. Please note that this list is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to provide an overview of the variety of approaches to enforcement taking place across the country.

Suspension of business operations or licenses

In Summit County, Ohio, the public health department—as of March 27—had closed 37 nonessential businesses that operated in violation of Ohio’s stay-at-home order, including 16 car washes, 13 electronic cigarette and vape shops, five retail stores, a fitness center, a private college, and a private playground.

In Anderson County, South Carolina, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the Department of Revenue have revoked LA Sports Club’s liquor license for failing several times to comply with the state’s executive order barring all restaurants and pubs from any service other than takeout or delivery.

Other examples:

Criminal enforcement

In Central, Louisiana, Pastor Tony Spell was arrested on March 31, 2020, and faces six misdemeanor counts for holding six large church services over two weeks, violating Louisiana’s stay-at-home order, which prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people. City and state leaders had urged the pastor to suspend services in order to stem the spread of COVID-19 cases in the area.

In Charles County, Maryland, a man was arrested and held without bond after hosting two parties at his home. He was charged with two counts of violating the governor’s executive order, an offense punishable by up to one year of incarceration and a $5,000 fine.

Other examples include:

Sentence enhancement and charge stacking

In Hawaii County, prosecutors have relied on the stay-at-home order to “stack” charges against an individual accused of breaking into a restaurant and stealing $3 from a tip jar. The individual was charged with burglary during an emergency period and violation of an emergency order, in addition to charges of property damage and theft. Bail was set at $10,750.

In Palm Beach, Florida, prosecutors are using the emergency declaration to enhance penalties for individuals charged with offenses such as theft or burglary. Under Florida law, charges for these offenses can be upgraded during a state of emergency. For example, a person who commits an eligible third-degree felony could be charged with a second-degree felony, increasing their maximum sentence from five years to 15 years imprisonment.

Other examples include:

Lea Hunter is a research associate for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress. Betsy Pearl is an associate director for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center. Kenny Lo is a research associate for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center.

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