Understanding When Neglecting Prevention Laws for COVID-19 Could Be Criminal
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many state governors have put laws and orders in place that are designed to lessen the spread of the virus. It’s important to understand that more than 200,000 people in the U.S. have died as a result of the COVID-19 virus. The prevention laws that have been passed in states like New Jersey can come with penalties and the possibility of litigation for individuals who neglect these laws.
Current COVID-19 Laws in New Jersey
Toward the beginning of the COVID-19 surge in the U.S., the New Jersey state government put in orders that required individuals to stay at home as much as possible. A mask mandate has also been passed that requires residents to wear masks or other types of face coverings in outdoor public spaces as well as commercial businesses. There are, however, some exceptions to this mask rule that you should be aware of. For instance, if wearing a face mask would inhibit your health, this order wouldn’t apply to you.
While the mask mandate is still in place throughout New Jersey, the stay-at-home order was rescinded back in June once the rate of new cases dropped significantly. At the time, anyone who was caught breaking the stay-at-home order could face penalties that were as high as $10,000 in fines and up to 18 months of jail time. During the period of time that the order was in place, more than 2,000 residents of New Jersey were charged with violating this order.
Keep in mind that current penalties and charges for neglecting COVID-19 prevention laws could increase or decrease in the coming weeks and months. Across the United States, prevention laws have become stricter when cases have risen. While the case numbers in New Jersey remained relatively steady from June through September, there’s always a possibility that case numbers could rise again. If this occurs, the penalties for not wearing a mask could increase. Enforcement of these penalties may also become more stringent.
Possible Penalties You Could Face
Since it has been rescinded, residents no longer have to worry about facing fines or jail time for breaking New Jersey’s stay-at-home order. As for the mask mandate, it’s possible that penalties and charges will start to be assessed in the coming weeks for individuals who are caught not covering their faces while in stores and outdoor places throughout New Jersey.
Back in April, Governor Phil Murphy created and signed an order that required people who enter stores throughout New Jersey to wear masks or face coverings. While these requirements are still in place, penalties have yet to be assessed for the mask mandate. In late September, the New Jersey State Assembly passed a bill that stated that individuals would face certain penalties if they were caught not wearing a mask in stores with visible signs that required face coverings. Currently, the bill has only been sent through the appropriations committee and will still require additional votes before becoming law.
If passed, this bill will charge individuals who break the mask mandate to have to pay fines that are anywhere from $50 to $500. These fines can be allotted if the individual doesn’t wear a mask over both their mouth and nose. In the early stages of the bill, anyone who was caught without a mask could also face a jail sentence of up to 30 days. This penalty has since been dropped from the bill, which means that monetary fines are currently the only potential penalty that people could face when breaking the mask mandate. While the criminal charges for neglecting COVID-19 prevention laws are relatively minor, it’s still important that you adhere to these laws if you want to avoid any charges.
Potential for a Lawsuit
Along with criminal charges, it’s possible that you could face a lawsuit if you neglect the COVID-19 prevention laws that have been set in New Jersey. If you show symptoms of suffering from COVID-19 yet continue to meet with people, shake hands, and remain in proximity to others, a lawsuit could be filed against you in the event that your negligence leads to spreading the disease.
While a lawsuit can be filed in such situations, these cases are often difficult to prove since the plaintiff will need to be able to prove that the defendant knew about their symptoms and continued to act recklessly before seeking treatment. For a defendant to determine that negligent conduct occurred, they must officially establish that:
- Damage was done to the plaintiff
- There is a connection between the conduct of the defendant and the harm that was done to the plaintiff
- The defendant has a duty to the plaintiff
- The defendant breached the duty that they had to the plaintiff
While it’s possible for lawsuits to be filed in relation to COVID-19, more coronavirus cases in New Jersey have been criminal. In fact, New Jersey has already charged more than 1,700 people for breaking the stay-at-home order back in April. This included a notable incident where a 54-year-old homeowner was charged after putting on a concert from his front porch in Rumson, NJ. That’s why it’s important to wear a face covering and pay attention to any new executive orders that may be signed by Governor Phil Murphy in the coming weeks and months.
How a Morristown Criminal Defense Lawyer Could Help You
While COVID-prevention regulations play an important role in stopping the spread of the disease, there are instances where people are unfairly charged with breaking the laws. Sometimes, a sign is not visible or someone is wrongfully accused. Keep in mind that there are some exceptions to the mask mandate and other COVID-19 prevention laws that might apply to your situation. For instance, the mask mandate doesn’t apply to situations where you’re drinking a beverage or eating food.
These laws are meant to punish serious offenders, not well-meaning people who fell victim to a mix-up. After all, navigating a pandemic is something new for our society. If you’ve been hit with a charge, consider reaching out to a criminal attorney.
It’s also important to understand that potential fines for breaking the mask mandate could be anywhere from $50 to $500. While you might be able to afford a penalty of $50, a higher penalty that’s closer to $500 could make it difficult for you to pay your monthly rent or afford groceries. Should jail time be added to the possible list of penalties, the economic ramifications could be even greater.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a serious situation that has resulted in many governors throughout the country signing orders and laws that make it illegal to go into a store without a mask or to visit a gym or movie theater during downtime. Even though the penalties that are assessed with these charges aren’t too high at the moment, it’s still recommended that you do what you can to avoid criminal charges. If you have questions about COVID-19 prevention laws, call us at the office of Gregg A. Wisotsky. You can reach our Morristown criminal defense lawyer at (973) 898-0161.