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Can I be Charged for Violating Illinois' Shelter in Place Order?

Posted by Joshua R. Evans | Mar 24, 2020 | 0 Comments

First let me say, we can't control what an overworked an well-intentioned police officer does. None of us can. You are aware Governor Pritzker has ordered all Illinois residents "shelter in place" for the time being. Madison County clients are calling with fears if they break the Order and go to work or other places that they will be stopped and given a ticket or charged with a crime.

Here is the rub. Our firm has spoken to law enforcement officers who would rather not write tickets or charge anyone for doing what they have to do. If you are ticketed or charged, it won't be for violating the Order, because the governor doesn't have the right to create crimes. It will be for a crime already on the books. From our view, the only crime ambiguous-enough to sustain a charge for breaking Governor Pritzker's Order is Reckless Conduct. Reckless Conduct is when a person "by any means lawful or unlawful, recklessly performs an act or acts that: (1) ... endanger[s] the safety of another person." Assuming an officer arrests you for this crime, that could be a violation of your civil liberties. We sometimes call wrongful arrests civil rights violation. In our opinion, it certainly would be a charge you should litigate.

From the governor's order, there are essential people and non-essential people. Under the Order, even essential people aren't given a free pass (sorry off-duty police and nurses), it is only while doing their essential tasks. While we have not had calls of clients being charged or claiming officers asking them if they are essential or not, should the coronavirus spread-we fear the government will escalate the response. And maybe rightfully so? Here is the tip to avoid a charge for violating the order.

If an officer comes up to you, do you have to talk to that officer? No. But, you should be polite. Assuming you are out and are a non-essential person, what do you do? "Officer, I do not wish to discuss with you the details of my day. Have a nice day." Will that fix it? Probably not, but that is all you have to say. if the officer persists, you can keep repeating that until you are back on your way.

Keep in mind there is a difference between an officer coming up to you on the street and one pulling you over on the roadway. An officer, like anyone else, has the right to come up and ask you questions on the street. Use the phrase we provided (if you want). An officer temporarily detaining you is a different issue. In legal jargon, we call a temporary detention a Terry Stop (based upon an important case). This just means the officer is coming up to you or pulling you over with a suspicion you may be committing a crime. He is briefly detaining you to learn whether that suspicion is correct. He may ask you questions. You may elect to answer said questions or ignore the officer completely. I recommend using the phrase I gave you in a polite way. Can the officer do a Terry Stop to see if you are breaking an Order? Possibly. That doesn't mean you have to give him the information to lead to an arrest.

Keep in mind, the average police officer is not looking to hassle people. He is just working his job. Tensions are going to start running high as the government attempts to mitigate the coronavirus fallout. That cop working the beat is probably getting heat from his or her supervisor who is getting pressure from further up the chain. We aren't advocating you break the Order to "shelter in place." We are saying life is complicated and if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, know your rights. 

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Joshua R. Evans



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