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NJ Lawyer for Those Charged with Violating COVID-19 Social Gatherings Executive Order

The global COVID-19 pandemic has upended the way of life for billions of people throughout the world. Here in New Jersey, we are seeing some of the highest rates of infection and community spread in the whole of the United States. The governor issued several executive orders in mid-March directing that all New Jerseyans stay at home except for essential activities, such as going to work at a needed job or going to the grocery store or pharmacy for supplies. In particular, the executive orders ban all large gatherings of people, whether it be for a spontaneous party or for a special event such as a wedding or a funeral. Below, our experienced Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych walk you through what the executive orders mean for you, what is happening to those who violate them, and what you should do if you are charged under the executive orders.

Types of Conduct Prohibited Under the Governor’s Executive Orders

The executive “order” the governor issued is actually a series of executive orders that have been put out as the COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey has gotten more severe over the past month. Under this series of orders, the governor mandates that all citizens of New Jersey must stay at home except for a series of carefully delineated exceptions. This exceptions include traveling to stores for necessary products such as food and medicine. All large gatherings and parties, however, are considered non-essential and banned until further notice. This means that if you had a party, wedding, or even a funeral planned, you will need to cancel or delay it until the governor lifts the stay-at-home order.

The executive orders also make clear which businesses are and are not considered essential for the duration of the public health emergency in New Jersey. Bars and restaurants are closed except for curbside pickup and delivery. Entertainment venues like movie theaters and banquet halls are required to close, as are beauty shops, nail salons, and massage parlors. If you are found to be operating or patronizing a non-essential business while the executive orders are in effect, you could face charges.

Enforcement of the Executive Orders in New Jersey

New Jersey has taken a very serious approach to enforcing the executive orders and ensuring that all citizens are in compliance. In Newark, hundreds of businesses have been cited for staying open when they have been ordered to close. Throughout the state, people who are found to be having large gatherings are charged with a disorderly persons offense. If children are present at these gatherings, they can also be charged with child endangerment.

Most of the time, the police attempt to give businesses and individuals in violation of the order a warning and allow them to correct their behavior. This makes sense since the order is new and some people may be legitimately ignorant as to what it prohibits. However, the police do not take kindly to those who are given a warning and continue to violate the order. At this point, they will almost certainly issue a citation at least to the person organizing the gathering or keeping the store open, and possibly to all attendees.

Potential Consequences for Violating the Executive Orders in New Jersey

In his Executive Order 108, the governor references N.J.S.A. App A:9-49 and-50 as the applicable statute dealing with penalties for violating his executive orders. These sections of the code deal with punishments with those who violate a temporary or emergency order promulgated by the governor. In this section, the code states that violations of emergency orders as issued by the governor will be charged as disorderly persons offenses and can result in fines of up to $1,000 and jail time of up to 6 months.

This is the baseline for a simple violation, but many violators are charged with this provision as well as other crimes. For example, those who choose to harass others by spitting or coughing on them and claiming to have the coronavirus (COVID-19) when they do not can be charged with terroristic threats and face serious jail time. If you are caught driving drunk or committing a burglary during this time will be charged with violating the executive order in addition to the underlying crimes.

What to Do if You Are Charged Under the Executive Orders in New Jersey

The first thing you should do if you are cited by the police is to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer like those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych. For a single violation of the order, such as holding a party, the officers will likely break up the event and simply issue you a citation. However, for more serious violations or for uncooperative people, there is a chance that you could be taken to the station and held in detention until a bail hearing can be conducted. These hearings are delayed and many people are being forced to spend longer times than usual waiting for them behind bars. Our lawyers can work to ensure this hearing is held in a timely manner and work to get the judge to release you.

As of now, the state criminal courts are closed except for emergent manners, so if you plan to challenge the violation, you may have to wait many months for your day in court. A lawyer can speak with the prosecutor about having you plea by affidavit, however, if you choose not to challenge the citation. If you do want to challenge the citation we will work with the prosecutor remotely as much as possible to try to get the charges downgraded or dismissed.

If You Have Been Charged Under the COVID-19 Executive Orders, Call Our New Jersey Defense Lawyers Today

COVID-19 presents uncertain times for everyone. For those not following the news closely, there is a genuine chance you did not realize you were in violation of the law by holding a large gathering or continuing to operate your non-essential business. Our South Jersey criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych can work to convince the officers to leave it a warning and not issue citations. If a citation is issued, we can work to mitigate the potential damage. Call us today at (609) 616-4956 for a free consultation.

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