COPS & CORONAVIRUS- WHAT TO KNOW & WHAT NOT TO DO
Now that we’re on week 3 of the stay at home order in Illinois, people are experiencing a multitude of emotions as our day to day life radically transforms. Businesses are closed temporarily, traffic doesn’t exist, and if you turn on the news it’s all COVID-19 all day, all night. Mayor Lori Lightfoot herself is out driving around and yelling at people to stop congregating in public. Most significantly, people are dying, sadly including one member of the Chicago Police Department, which also has 62 officers that tested positive for COVID-19.
Despite the “order” from the Governor and constant reminders by the Mayor to stay at home and only to leave the house for essential items and work, people are clearly still out and about. In this novel situation, enforcement of this order seems to raise more questions than answers. For example, what can the police do to enforce the stay at home order? Can they pull you over without any probable cause under the order? How does it affect our constitutional rights? How far can the police go to enforce this order? Where is this going?
ARE POLICE ENFORCING THE STAY AT HOME ORDER?
The stay at home order prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people. Police around the state have been breaking up these sorts of gatherings and even charging people. In fact, shortly after the Mayor of Alton, Illinois, ordered police to start issuing citations for violating the stay at home order, the police caught his wife drinking at a bar (at 11am) with several other people. On April 9, 2020, Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered that all liquor stores must close at 9PM in response to people gathering outside them in violation of the stay at home order.
In the overwhelming majority of situations, police simply tell people to disperse and give them warnings. However, people have been charged with the crime of Reckless Conduct for violating the stay at home order.
What’s Reckless Conduct? According to Illinois law, “A person commits reckless conduct when he or she, by any means lawful or unlawful, recklessly performs an act or acts that causes bodily harm to or endangers the safety of another person.” 720 ILCS 5/12-5(a). This criminal offense is a class A misdemeanor which carries a possible penalty of up to one year in jail and a $2500 fine.
However, other than breaking up gatherings or people at bars defying the order, Governor Pritzker has publicly stated he is not encouraging police to actively enforce the stay at home order… yet, but says “at some it is worth considering a real consequence” for violators. In Chicago, the CPD is setting up checkpoints throughout the city from 10pm to 2am starting April 7, 2020. After stopping the driver at the checkpoint, police will hand them a flyer reminding them of the stay at home order.
It hasn’t come to the police stopping everyone on the streets…yet. However, it is unclear how exactly police would be able to enforce the stay at home order. The stay at home order prohibits travel and activities unless they are “essential.” What is defined as “essential” under the order is quite broad. Going to work, the grocery store, the gas station, or on a walk for leisure are considered essential travel and/or activities. How would police actually verify that someone isn’t engaging in essential travel or activities? If you say, “I’m going to the grocery store” wouldn’t they have to let you go? How could they say you aren’t? We haven’t gotten to this point yet, but with the situation changing everyday, we’re getting closer and closer.
WHAT YOU ABSOLUTELY, 100%, SHOULDN’T DO TO POLICE DURING COVID19
While most people have been respectful of, and thankful for, the police during this time, some people are too stupid to miss an opportunity to be jerk. Recently, a Chicago man went into the lobby of the 11th District Chicago Police Station and coughed in the direction of officers, earning him a reckless conduct charge. In the suburbs, a Niles man arrested for DUI allegedly coughed in an officer’s face while yelling ‘now you have the coronavirus.’
Let’s be clear, coronavirus or no coronavirus, coughing or spitting on a police officer is not only stupid, it’s illegal and a class 2 felony. Not to mention beyond rude in a time where people are wearing masks just to go take a jog & washing their hands 100x/day. And while police, like everyone else, doesn’t want to catch this virus, they do still want to catch criminals. If police have probable cause to stop and search people, they still can and will.
And you don’t want to get arrested for anything right now. The Cook County jail is currently the number one cluster of outbreaks of coronavirus in America. Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay smart. Don’t find yourself there, but if you do, you know who to call. 312 322 9000. At Robert Callahan & Associates, our Chicago criminal defense lawyers can provide guidance on the daily and future impacts of coronavirus on any criminal issues. Call now to speak with a criminal defense attorney.