Can the Government Force you to Stay at Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Can the government force you to stay at home under an executive order?
Yes, both federal and state governments have the power to enforce social isolation and self-quarantine, effectively limiting citizens to their homes. While this effort is meant to protect the public from those who have contracted a disease, the power can even extend to those who are not confirmed to be infected with a disease.
The federal government’s power to enforce a quarantine comes from the Public Health Services Act (1944). This act gives the Executive Branch the right to enact a quarantine order. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is the agency charged with implementing these decisions. The CDC is the nation’s health protection agency, whose members are appointed by the Executive branch. The Executive branch generally delegates authority to the CDC to detain, medically examine and release people who are suspected to carry certain diseases such as COVID-19.
States are generally allowed to enact any type of legislation that is not covered by federal law. States also have what are called “police powers” which allow them to take any action to protect the health, safety and welfare of citizens. While the federal government might only issue “guidelines” for social distancing, the states may still issue a lawful quarantine order using the “police powers” granted to the states from the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution. Police powers give states the rights and powers “not delegated to the united states.” States are thus granted the power to establish and enforce laws protecting the welfare, safety, and health of the public.
Can Someone be charged with violating a “stay at home” order?
Federal quarantine orders are enforced by federal agencies such as US Customs, Border Agents as well as the Coast Guard. Not abiding by a quarantine order can result in a fine or imprisonment under U.S. Code Title 42.
The Minnesota stay at home order is an Executive Order issued by Governor Tim Walz and enforced by local public health agencies as well as state police. In general, breaking quarantine has different penalties depending on the person. Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes 2019, section 12.45, a worker who willfully violates the stay at home order is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction must be punished by a fine not to exceed $1,000 or by imprisonment for not more than 90 days. Any business owner, manager, or supervisor who requires or encourages any of their employees to violate the order is guilty of a gross misdemeanor and upon conviction must be punished by a fine not to exceed $3,000 or by imprisonment for not more than a year. In addition to those criminal penalties, the Attorney General, as well as city and county attorneys, may seek any civil relief available pursuant to Minnesota Statutes 2019, section 8.31, for violations of the order, including civil penalties up to $25,000 per occurrence from businesses and injunctive relief.
Has anyone been charged with violating a “stay at home” order?
As of April 14, 2020, more than 25 Minnesotans have been charged with violating the “stay at home” order issued by Governor Tim Walz. In many cases, law enforcement officers added the misdemeanor charge as a secondary offense to another crime. Committing a crime that involves leaving your home may increase the likelihood of being charged with this violation.
What is the penalty for breaking the order under Minnesota law?
The charge is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.