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Public Health Order Violations in California

January 14, 2021

Can I Go To Jail for Violating a Stay-at-Home Order?

Public Health Order Violations in California

During the coronavirus pandemic, both the state of California and local health officials have issued stay-at-home orders that require citizens to avoid unnecessary human interaction. Attempting to prevent the spread of an infectious disease like COVID-19, stay-at-home orders seem to conflict with constitutional rights. However, California has laws in place to support public health orders, going so far as to criminalize violations.

The Validity of Stay-at-Home Orders

To be charged with a crime for violating a stay-at-home order, the order itself must first be valid. California’s Health and Safety Code (HSC) allows any health department or health officer to issue rules for quarantining or disinfection. HSC orders cover people, animals, and property.

It may seem that a quarantine order requiring you to remain in your house is overbearing. You have constitutional rights to exercise religion or associate with others how you see fit. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that stay-at-home orders do not infringe constitutional rights if the quarantine order is a response to a contagious disease made in an attempt to protect citizens or residents.

Therefore, the recent COVID-19 quarantine orders are generally valid.

The Necessity of Leaving Home

A California prosecutor seeking to convict you of violating a stay-at-home order must prove that you:

  • Were aware that a quarantine order was in place
  • The order was valid
  • That you did not follow the rules of the specific order

A valid stay-at-home order may cover all residents of an area, like the whole state, county, or city. It also could be an order pertaining directly to you. For example, a health official may have ordered you to isolate yourself after you tested positive for COVID-19. Such an order will include a specific number of days that you will need to quarantine so that you do not further spread the disease. You also could violate a health order to properly disinfect your home or apartment after you contracted a virus, though convictions such violations are rare.

There is always a legal defense available that you violated the order out of necessity. Necessary reasons to leave during a stay-at-home order include grocery shopping, refilling medications, or seeking medical treatment. If you’ve been charged with violating a public health order while taking care of essential matters, a criminal defense lawyer can argue that you should not be punished for leaving your home when you needed to go out.

Punishment for Stay-at-Home Violations

A California prosecutor can charge you with a misdemeanor crime for violating a valid stay-at-home order. The maximum penalties you will face for a violation include:

  • Up to 90 days in county jail
  • A fine of $1,000

The judge can also put you on summary probation instead of ordering jail time. Typically, jail is only required for the most egregious violations, such as going to a crowded place when you know you have a highly contagious disease. Unlike many other crimes, violating a stay-at-home order in California will not affect your immigration status. It will also have no impact on your right to own or carry firearms.

If you have been accused of violating a recent COVID-19 stay-at-home order in Orange, California, you need an aggressive criminal attorney to fight for your rights. The Chambers Law Firm has years of experience defending people who have been charged with many different types of crimes. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to request a free consultation with a member of our talented legal team.

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