Law of the New Jersey Stay at Home Order

What Happens if I Violate the Governor’s Executive Order (the Shelter in Place Order)?

Am I getting Arrested if I leave my house? What can I be charged with? Will I be sent to Jail?

Can I be Charged and Arrested for Violating the Order?

The short answer is, yes. There are multiple criminal penalties that may be imposed if the Governor’s Orders are violated.  Executive Order #122 made explicit that the State will charge defendants with a violation of N.J.S.A. App. A:9-49.

Under N.J.S.A. App. A:9-49 anyone who commits “any unauthorized or otherwise unlawful act during the threat or imminence of danger in any emergency that jeopardizes the health, welfare and safety of the people” may be charged with a Disorderly Persons level offense.   If charged with a Disorderly Persons Offense, the matter will not be heard until the Municipal Court’s reopen.  Disorderly Persons Offenses are punishable by up to a $1,000.00 fine or up to a six (6) month County Jail term.

In addition to N.J.S.A. App. A:9-49, individuals who are alleged to have violated the Governor’s Order are also exposed to additional charges. The following is a non-exhaustive list of potential charges:

Charge(s) Degree/Level Conduct Potential Penalty
N.J.S.A. § App. A:9-49, Emergency and Temporary Acts Disorderly Persons Offense “any unauthorized or otherwise unlawful act during the threat or imminence of danger in any emergency that jeopardizes the health, welfare and safety of the people”
  • $1,000.00 fine
  • 180 days in the County Jail
  • Probation
  • Court costs and fees
N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-12, Maintaining a Public Nuisance Disorderly Persons Offense “By conduct either unlawful in itself or unreasonable under all the circumstances, he knowingly or recklessly creates or maintains a condition which endangers the safety or health of a considerable number of persons” or “knowingly conducts or maintains any premises, place or resort where persons gather for purposes of engaging in unlawful conduct; or
  • $1,000.00 fine
  • 180 days in the County Jail
  • Probation
  • Court costs and fees
N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-2, Disorderly Conduct Disorderly Persons Offense “Creates a hazardous or physically dangerous condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor”
  • $1,000.00 fine
  • 180 days in the County Jail
  • Probation
  • Court costs and fees
N.J.S.A. § 9:6-1, Abuse, Abandonment, Cruelty and Neglect of a Child Fourth Degree Crime “failure to do or permit to be done any act necessary for the child’s physical or moral well-being.”
  • Up to 18 Months in Prison
  • Fine up to $10,000.00
  • Probation
  • Court costs and fees
N.J.S.A. § 9:6-3, Cruelty and Neglect of Children Fourth Degree Crime “any person who shall abuse, be cruel to or neglectful of any child”
  • Up to 18 Months in Prison
  • Fine up to $10,000.00
  • Probation
  • Court costs and fees

When Will my Case be Heard?

As per the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Order, the Municipal Courts will remain closed until at least April 26, 2020.  It is likely that they will remain closed for some time after.  Although the New Jersey Supreme Court is relaxing the Court Rules for Plea Affidavits by mail, most municipal courts are unable at this time to provide any guidance on whether they will attempt to conduct proceedings by video or telephone.  Until that occurs, the Municipal Courts will remain closed and any charged violations of the Governor’s Order will not be heard until then.

Will I be Sent to Jail?

Every criminal case is fact sensitive and depends on the facts and circumstances of the arrest, the nature of the violation of the criminal offense, and the defendant’s criminal record.  However, because of the possible spread of COVID-19 to the County Jails, the State is currently attempting to limit the County Jail population.

On March 22, 2020, the Office of the Attorney General, the County Prosecutor’s Association, the Officer of the Public Defender, and the American Civil Liberties Union all agreed to a Consent Order which released low-level non-violent inmates currently serving County Jail sentences.  As such, in order to limit the County Jail population, it is anticipated that Municipal Court Judges will be more inclined to sentence offenders to either terms of probation or monetary penalties.  That said, the Courts still have the option to send defendants to County Jail.  Each case is fact sensitive and sentencing will be case specific.

Could I be Charged with More Serious Criminal Offenses?

Individuals have already been charged with Maintaining a Public Nuisance, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:33-12, another Disorderly Persons Offense, for disregarding the Governor’s previous Orders relating to the quarantine.  However, law enforcement is not just limited to charging violators with Disorderly Persons level Offenses.

On March 29, 2020, a Lakewood couple was charged with five (5) counts of Child Endangerment, contrary to N.J.S.A. 9:6-1 and N.J.S.A. 9:6-3, fourth degree criminal offenses.  In that case it is alleged that the Lakewood couple was violating the Governor’s Quarantine Order by hosting a large gathering at their residence.  Their five (5) child were present.  In addition to charging them with multiple Disorderly Persons level offenses, the couple will now have to “appear” in the Ocean County Superior Court to deal with these fourth-degree offenses.  Appearances in the Superior Court’s are being conducted by way of video conference.  Criminal offenses of the fourth degree are punishable by up to eighteen (18) months in State Prison.

If you need assistance with a legal matter, contact Rosenberg | Perry & Associates.  We are here to help. Contact us if you need assistance with criminal matters, DUI, traffic matters, Restraining Orders, Personal Injury, or Wills.

Previous Post from 3/24/20 included below:

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:

  1. What exactly did the Governor order?
  2. 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:

  1. Obtaining goods or services from “essential retail businesses”;
  2. Obtaining takeout food or beverages from restaurants, other dining establishments, or food courts;
  3. Seeking medical attention, essential social services, or assistance from law enforcement or emergency services;
  4. 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;
  5. Reporting to, or performing, their job;
  6. 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;
  7. Leaving the home for educational, religious, or political reason;
  8. Leaving because of a reasonable fear for his or her safety; or
  9. 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.