What to Do When Stopped During the Safer at Home Order

April 1, 2020

During this unprecedented time in history and the Governor’s Safer at Home Order, it is unclear what directive law enforcement has received regarding implementation of this order. The penalty for violations, however, is clear. The Order is enforceable by any law enforcement official, and violations could result in up to 30 days imprisonment, a $250 fine, or both.

Madison Police Department (MPD) Interim Chief Vic Wahl posted on his blog that he would like to see MPD officers focusing on extra patrol to unexpectedly closed businesses instead of enforcing the Order.  The MPD elaborated further on their Facebook page that they will not be stopping people and asking them to produce paperwork showing they are on “essential travel.” However, the level of enforcement could vary throughout the state, and from agency to agency.

Some departments may follow suit and instruct their police personnel not to initiate a traffic stop to avoid unnecessary potential COVID-19 exposure, while others are operating on minimal staff and may not even have the ability to enforce. Other departments may insist on investigating anyone who is out. Those in blatant violation gathering in large groups are more likely to encounter enforcement efforts.

If you are stopped by law enforcement, you need to be aware of how the routine traffic stop may require additional information beyond the typical license, registration, and proof of insurance.  Even with the basis of the traffic stop being a potential violation of the Safer at Home Order, anything you say can potentially be used against you in a prosecution for violation of the Order, or even for other traffic or criminal violations.

If you happen to find yourself on the receiving end of a traffic stop on your way to or from work at an essential business, you may be required to provide additional information.  You may be asked where you are coming from, where you are going, and your purpose for being out. Prior to the Governor’s order, these type of questions were not regularly part of a “routine” traffic stop.  However, those type of questions may become the “new normal” during the duration of the Order.  Although the Governor’s Order does not require documentation of the reason you are out, having something in writing from your employer could potentially expedite the traffic stop.

If you are stopped, remember the following:

  • We are all in this together
  • Be polite
  • If you have symptoms or are not feeling well notify the officer
  • Provide the requested information (driver’s license, proof of insurance, registration)
  • Provide the letter from your employer or other proof that you are out for an essential purpose
  • The traffic stop is not the time or place to argue the legitimacy of the stop
  • You will always have the chance to challenge any citation you receive in court

The Governor’s Order only permits leaving an individual’s home for essential activities, essential governmental functions, to operate Essential Businesses and Operations, to perform non-essential minimum basic operations, essential travel, and special situations. The Order is in place until 8:00 a.m. on Friday, April 24, 2020 or until a superseding order is issued. Certain employers, but not all, are considered Essential Businesses and Operations during this time. If you receive a citation or summons for court, as a result of an alleged violation of this Order and are seeking representation, please do not hesitate to reach out to our criminal defense team.