Can police stop you for violating a stay at home order?
we are all adapting to a new normal, we may wonder: Am I allowed to run to the grocery store? What if I want to see if my favorite store is open? What if I just need to get out of my house and drive? Can police stop me just because I am not at home?
I wish I could give you a straightforward NO! My gut says that should always be the answer, but we don’t know where this pandemic will lead us. Currently, as of March 31, 2020, the answer is no and the reason is simple. Our state and federal Constitutions have not been suspended.
Under Article I, § 8 of our Pennsylvania Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to our United States Constitution, citizens cannot be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures. Being stopped by police is considered a seizure. That means that police need what we call probable cause or at least reasonable suspicion to stop you.
If the crime suspected requires a further investigation after the vehicle stop reasonable suspicion is required to stop a vehicle. But if the criminal activity is apparent and there is nothing more for police to investigate, like if someone is speeding, then probable cause is required to stop a vehicle. Reasonable suspicion is not a very demanding standard. It only requires that a reasonable officer, viewing all of the facts and circumstances, would believe that the driver is, has been, or is about to be, involved in criminal activity.
So, would police need to further investigate to know if we are violating the stay at home order? The answer to that is absolutely! Driving your car while a stay at home order is in place is not enough on its own for police to stop your vehicle.
There are many activities that are permitted during Pennsylvania’s stay at home orders. Straight from the Governor’s website (https://www.governor.pa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/03.23.20-Stay-At-Home-Order-Guidance.pdf):
ALLOWABLE INDIVIDUAL ACTIVITIES
- Tasks essential to maintain health and safety, or the health and safety of their family or household members (including, but not limited to, pets), such as obtaining medicine or medical supplies, visiting a health care professional, or obtaining supplies they need to work from home.
- Getting necessary services or supplies for themselves or their family or household members, or to deliver those services or supplies to others, such as getting food and household consumer products, pet food, and supplies necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences. This includes volunteer efforts to distribute meals and other life-sustaining services to those in need.
- Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking or running if they maintain social distancing.
- To perform work providing essential products and services at a life-sustaining business.
- To care for a family member or pet in another household.
ALLOWABLE ESSENTIAL TRAVEL
- Any travel related to the provision of or access to the above-mentioned individual activities or life sustaining business activities.
- Travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons.
- Travel to or from educational institutions for purposes of receiving materials for distance learning, for receiving meals, and any other related services.
- Travel to return to a place of residence from an outside jurisdiction.
- Travel required by law enforcement or court order.
- Travel required for non-residents to return to their place of residence outside the commonwealth.
If all of these activities are allowed, how would police know if a person is violating the order without stopping them to further investigate? The simple answer is: they cannot. Which means, until our Constitutions are suspended (God, help us if they are), police cannot stop us unless and until they have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. At least not yet.
This however does not mean that the police won’t stop you simply for being out and about. If that happens and you believe your rights were violated or if you are facing criminal charges, give us a call! We are open and ready to help!