Misdemeanor Charges For Violations of Michigan COVID-19 Orders?

Misdemeanor Charges For Violations of Michigan COVID-19 Orders?

Currently, government leaders throughout Michigan, the U.S. and the world seek ways to control and mitigate the harm caused by the ongoing global pandemic, COVID-19. In an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, the president of the United States, mayors and governors, among others, have enacted sweeping new restrictions on public life.

As described in an earlier blog on this subject, our governor, Gretchen Whitmer, signed an executive order on March 23, 2020, requiring Michigan residents to stay at home until April 13, 2020, with limited exceptions such as for employment as “part of the critical infrastructure workforce,” for engagement in “an outdoor activity, or performing tasks necessary to the health and safety … like going to the hospital or grocery store.”

Around the same time, she signed another order that created “temporary restrictions on the use of places of public accommodation.” This order encourages businesses to continue serving the public only through methods like delivery, window service, walk-up and drive-through. The order also asks these businesses not to allow more than 5 people to enter at a time, admitting them only to pick up goods or orders.

Targeted facilities in the public accommodation restrictions order include:

  • Restaurants, bars, breweries and vaping lounges
  • Theaters, libraries and museums
  • Gyms, fitness centers and casinos
  • Private clubs, bingo halls and amusement parks

The order does not require closure or restrictions on operations of grocery stores, health care facilities, crisis shelters or food courts in airports.

This executive order states that, “a willful violation of this order is a misdemeanor,” but.does not specify what penalties there will be for violators. There may also be grey areas that could result in disputes if citations target businesses, business owners or other responsible parties such as managers. This order also doesn’t indicate whether there might be other punishments, as well, such as:

  • Fines or other civil penalties
  • Suspension of permits

Potentially, an individual business operator could end up with a criminal record and a business might also lose the ability to continue in operation. With few precedents by which to predict the outcome of an accusation of wrongdoing according to this executive order, an accused business owner, manager or representative should seek the advice of an experienced trial attorney, depending on the nature of the clash with law enforcement or any government agency.