In the wake of recent events, there’s been a lot of well-meaning public policy measures put into place by local authorities. These efforts have largely been focused on stemming the tide of new Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) infections.
Here in Colorado, the state government has made it clear that it won’t be enforcing social distancing orders; however, that doesn’t mean that city police departments will necessarily take the same stance.
Issuing fines and citations to those who are not following shelter-in-place orders is currently happening in other parts of the country. In Pennsylvania, a woman was recently issued a $200 fine for violating stay-at-home orders issued by the state. Not only was this woman driving alone, but she wasn’t actually traveling to a specific location—she just wanted to ‘get out of the house’.
In California, if you’re a member of a group that is congregating in a public place, then it’s possible that everyone in the group could receive tickets with associated fines attached to them.
It could be argued that these kinds of enforcement are unjust actions being taken to make a point and that they’re not necessarily being administered to curb the spread of COVID-19. Regardless of the political motivation behind them, there are some things to keep in mind if you find yourself on the receiving end of a social distancing ticket.
Take These Steps after Receiving a Social Distancing Ticket
The Law Office of Matthew A. Martin, PC specializes in providing criminal defense services for those being accused of or being investigated for committing a crime. This is distinctly different from offenses that are considered ‘civil’, meaning they pertain to disputes or grievances between two private parties (read: civil legal cases do not involve state-appointed District Attorneys, and the People of Colorado is not a party to them).
Social distancing citations—as with traffic citations, DUIs, and weapons charges—represent an accusation of a criminal infraction. They are given to individuals on behalf of the state or county in which they are issued. Because the county, city, or state has deemed it a crime to violate things like stay-at-home orders or social distancing guidelines, they can cite you if they have reason to believe you have willfully neglected these guidelines.
[The irony of this is, of course, that a police officer or state trooper would have to come within transmissible range of your person in order to hand you a social distancing citation.]
If you encounter a situation in which you’re being given a social distancing ticket, be sure to follow these steps:
1. Do not violate any police-issued instructions. Now is not the time to play attorney if you’re not one. Follow every command you are given by the law enforcement officer and comply with any requests for information or actions.
2. Document the place, time, setting, and presence of others at the time of the interaction. If possible take photos and/or video of your surroundings.
3. Obtain the name and badge number of the issuing officer. This information is likely to be contained on your copy of the citation, but if it’s not, be sure to explicitly ask for it.
4. Follow the instructions listed on the citation. It’s possible that the citation itself is just a warning. If it is, you’re not going to be liable for any fines, however there will still be a record of the interaction that could be used against you if a subsequent citation is issued for a similar offense.
The vast majority of social distancing citations are likely to come in the form of official warnings. They’re probably not going to affect your criminal record, and as long as you respect the requests of the issuing officer, it’s highly likely that you will not suffer any dire consequence as a result.
This isn’t to say that abuses of power aren’t going to happen. It is technically possible for a Colorado police officer to misuse his or her position of power in order to unjustifiably fine a citizen for a crime they didn’t actually commit.
If you believe you’ve been the victim of such treatment, we advise you to obtain legal counsel as quickly as possible.
Matthew Martin: Your Go-to Criminal Defense Attorney
During this difficult time, it can feel frustrating being forced to stay in one place for long stretches of time. We understand this.
We also understand that, in time, our current situation will pass. The Coronavirus development is affecting all of us, and it’s our wish that you and your family stay safe and healthy throughout this challenging period.