What are the possible legal consequences of breaking a COVID-19 quarantine or sheltering rule?

By The Law Offices of Lance Fryrear
coronavirus COVID-19

As we face the current coronavirus situation in Washington State, you may be wondering what the legal consequences of breaking quarantine / shelter-in-place orders are. 

The consequences for breaking the rules in a COVID-19 situation depends on the particular rules being violated.

On Monday, March 23, 2020, Governor Inslee issued a statewide stay at home order titled “Stay Home – Stay Healthy.” You can find the full text of the order on the Governor’s website. In the order, the Governor orders that “all people in Washington State are immediately prohibited from leaving their home or place of residence except to conduct or participate in (1) essential activities, and/or (2) employment in providing essential business services.”

These types of orders are being taken seriously by law enforcement in Seattle as was reported by the Capital Hill Seattle Blog in this article where police threaten to arrest park-goers in Cal Anderson Park.

Given that these orders are being taken seriously by the police, it is important that each person understands what conduct is forbidden and what conduct is allowed by these orders. The major questions answered by the March 23, 2020 order are: what are approved essential activities, what are essential business services, and are there any special exceptions to the order.

What are approved essential activities?

Under the order, you are still able to leave your home if you are engaging in or participating in essential activities. (Please refer to the Governor’s order, as this list may change and is not necessarily exclusive). These activities are:

  • Obtaining necessary supplies for family or household members and pets, such as groceries, food, and supplies for household consumption and use. It also includes obtaining supplies and equipment needed to work from home and products necessary to maintain safety, sanitation, and essential maintenance of your home.
  • Engaging in activities essential for the health and safety of family, household members, and pets. This includes things such as seeking medical or behavioral health services, supplies, or medication.
  • Caring for a family member, friend, or pet in another household or residence. Also transporting a family member, friend, or their pet for essential health and safety activities and to obtain necessary supplies and services.
  • Engaging in outdoor exercise activities, such as walking, hiking, running, or biking. Appropriate social distancing practices must be used when engaging in these activities.

What are essential business services?

The order defines essential business services as “an employee performing work for an essential business as identified in the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers list, or carrying out minimum basic operations for a non-essential business.

The essential critical infrastructure workers list outlines different workforce sectors and the essential workforce in each sector. The essential sectors are:

  • Healthcare / Public Health
  • Emergency Services
  • Food and Agriculture
  • Energy
  • Water and Wastewater
  • Transportation and Logistics
  • Communications and Information Technology
  • Other Community Based Government Operations and Essential Functions (including courts as consistent with the direction of the Washington State Chief Justice)
  • Critical Manufacturing
  • Hazardous Materials
  • Financial Services
  • Chemical
  • Defense Industrial Base

Special exceptions to the order

The Washington State Stay at Home Order does have some special exceptions listed. First, the prohibitions do not apply to individuals whose homes or residences are unsafe or become unsafe. An example of this situation is if you are the victim of domestic violence. Individuals with unsafe homes are permitted and urged to leave their homes or residences and stay at a safe alternate location. Second, the prohibition does not apply to individuals experiencing homelessness, but they are urged to obtain shelter, and governmental and other entities are strongly encouraged to make such shelter available as soon as possible and to the maximum extent practicable.

What are the penalties for violating the order?

You may be wondering what risk you take if you decide to violate the Washington State quarantine / stay-at-home order. Violators of the order are subject to criminal penalties pursuant to RCW 43.06.220(5). This statute makes the violation punishable as a gross misdemeanor criminal offense – up to 364 days in jail and/or a $5,000 fine. If you have questions about the Washington State quarantine / stay-at-home order, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at the Law Offices of Lance Fryrear who are working from home at 100 percent full strength and available at 425-224-7075.

If you know you are infected with COVID-19, is there a risk of criminal charges for breaking quarantine / shelter-in-place and infecting others?

While this may seem far-fetched to some, there is precedent in Washington State for criminalizing the knowing or intentional infection of others with a virus. Under the current RCW 9.A.36.011(1)(a) it is considered assault in the first degree to expose to or transmit to another person HIV/AIDS. This is currently a class A felony punishable up to life in prison and a $50,000 fine depending on a person’s criminal history. This classification is actually in the process of being reduced right now. On March 3, 2020, the Washington State Legislature passed a bill reducing the classification of this offense from a Class A Felony to a gross misdemeanor or misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances of the act. The bill now awaits review from the Governor.

Are the Law Offices of Lance Fryrear, or other law offices allowed to operate as essential business under the March 23, 2020 order?

The short answer is yes. The Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers’ List says that “Professional services, such as legal or accounting and tax preparation services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities and critical sector services” may operate. As the Court system is a critical sector service, law firms that service the court system, such as defense attorneys and prosecutors may continue to operate.

At The Law Offices of Lance Fryrear, we are 100 percent operational and mainly working from home for the safety of our staff. We have multiple daily full-team video conferences and also have fully functional VOIP phones that operate as if they were in the office. In short, we are able to help anyone in need with our normal maximum efficiency – even more so now given the delay in most court hearings.

If you have questions about the legal ramifications of the current COVID-19 crisis in Washington State, contact the skilled attorneys at the Law Offices of Lance Fryrear today. The Law Offices of Lance Fryrear has successfully represented over 5000 citizens of Washington State charged with crimes over the past 20 years. We are here to protect your rights and keep you safe. If you or a loved one is charged with a crime related to COVID-19 rules or any other criminal offense, please call us for the help you need. We offer free phone and video consultations. Call us and we will be there for you.

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