Some of you may have heard of criminal cases resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic in other countries. From the Italian man charged with aggravated culpable epidemic (Newsweek) to the 73 people in Spain arrested for breaking isolation rules (Newsweek). You should know that the United States has similar laws in place, and if you fail to take State or Federal orders related to COVID-19 seriously you could face criminal charges.
Indiana Governor Holcomb issued a stay at home order, along with other Executive Orders related to the Coronavirus pandemic (https://coronavirus.in.gov/). Indiana Code 16-19-3-9 states that “The state department may establish quarantine and may do what is reasonable and necessary for the prevention and suppression of disease.” When the state department acts on this power, or Governor Holcomb enacts Executive Orders, you may face criminal charges for violating their orders and restrictions.
Specifically, you would face charges under Indiana Code 16-20-1-25, included here in full for your convenience.
IC 16-20-1-25 Unlawful conditions; abatement order; enforcement; providing false information
Sec. 25. (a) A person shall not institute, permit, or maintain any conditions that may transmit, generate, or promote disease.
(b) A health officer, upon receiving a complaint asserting the existence of unlawful conditions described in subsection (a) within the officer’s jurisdiction, shall document the complaint as provided in subsection (d). Upon verifying the information contained in the complaint, the health officer shall order the abatement of those conditions. The order must:
(1) be in writing;
(2) specify the conditions that may transmit disease; and
(3) name the shortest reasonable time for abatement.
(c) If a person refuses or neglects to obey an order issued under this section, the attorney representing the county of the health jurisdiction where the offense occurs shall, upon receiving the information from the health officer, institute proceedings in the courts for enforcement. An order may be enforced by injunction. If the action concerning public health is a criminal offense, a law enforcement authority with jurisdiction over the place where the offense occurred shall be notified.
(d) A complaint made under subsection (b) must include adequate details to allow the health officer to verify the existence of the unlawful conditions that are the subject of the complaint. A health officer shall provide a copy of a complaint upon request to the person who is the subject of the complaint.
(e) A person who provides false information upon which a health officer relies in issuing an order under this section commits a Class C misdemeanor.
[Pre-1993 Recodification Citation: 16-1-4-11.]
The language allows for wide interpretation by the State. For example, if you were to post a video of yourself licking items at Wal-Mart you could be charged with instituting a condition that could transmit, generate, or promote disease. We saw this happen in Missouri on March 25th. (NBC News). While that young man may have acted in jest, and you may take yourself to be acting in jest, these are serious times that provide for serious consequences.
In Florida, the Governor has yet to issue any stay at home orders, but local jurisdictions are enacting them city by city or county by county. Tampa Bay has orders in place in both Pinellas and Hillsborough County, Orange County (Orlando) is issuing as well and others are in place or coming soon. Failing to abide by these orders could land you in trouble as a result of Florida Statute 381.00315(6): “anyone who violates any rule adopted under this section, any isolation or quarantine, or any requirement adopted by the department pursuant to a declared public health emergency, commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.” Misdemeanors of the second degree, in Florida, can result in a jail term of up to 60 days and a fine of up to $500. Before you make that hilarious TikTok video of your violating quarantine, ask yourself if it is worth 60 days in jail.
Beyond state laws, federal law also allows for criminal charges to be made against folks who do not take the COVID-19 threat seriously. In a memorandum (Politico), the Deputy attorney General stated that “Coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of ‘biological agent’” and so charges related to Coronavirus could “implicate the Nation’s terrorism-related statues.” Under the right circumstances, you could be litigated as a terrorist for failing to take proper precautions against spreading Coronavirus.
All this to say you should take Coronavirus seriously. If not for the legal reasons, then for the reasons of caring for yourself, your family, and your neighbors. We are all in this together.
While lawyers and courts are essential businesses, we have all but one team member working remotely from home and our office is closed to the general public. The one team member and I are only in the office Tuesday to Thursday and available by appointment only, which in almost all situations is a phone call or video conference. So far I have had three depositions all via remote access with all participants. Today, I had another phone court appearance. We are open for business, but not business as usual. Let’s all do our part to get through this safely and as quickly as possible.