Can I Get Pulled Over During the Coronavirus Stay at Home Order?
It really is a strange new world, at least for the time being. While we all adjust to our ever-changing lifestyles due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it is important to keep things in perspective and separate the realities of our current landscape from “fake news.” I mean seriously, we are leaving perfectly drinkable Corona bottles on the shelf and instead opting for Milwaukee’s Best. Come on, people, if there was ever a time to “find your beach,” it’s now. One of these legal falsities that has begun to circulate around the virtual water cooler is the misunderstood role of police officers in enforcing Governor Wolf’s stay at home order, which now extends to all 67 counties in Pennsylvania. You may be wondering, can I be pulled over during the coronavirus stay at home order?
Is it enforceable?
While Governor Wolf specifically used the term “enforcement”, his order did not clarify exactly how this would be applied to those disobeying. Thus, it has been suggested that police officers were now permitted to pull people over merely to question where they were going to or from to determine if they were engaging in non-approved travel under the coronavirus stay at home order. Contrary to the rumors, this is incorrect.
What is reasonable suspicion?
In Pennsylvania, a police officer can conduct a traffic stop of a vehicle if the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that a violation of the Vehicle Code has occurred, 75 Pa. C.S. § 6308(b). Comparably, this is a lower standard to probable cause, which is required for an arrest.
The reasonable suspicion necessary for a stop, which must be viewed objectively in light of the totality of the circumstances, can range from an officer observing a vehicle crossing the center line to potential criminal activity. Regardless, the reason for the stop must be for an articulable, investigatory purpose relevant to the suspected violation. Com v. Feczko, 10 A.3d 1285 (Pa. Super. 2010).
Has the stay at home order changed standards?
Even now, these standards remain unchanged. Police officers throughout the Commonwealth have indicated that they will not be setting up DUI-like checkpoints to scope out drivers potentially disobeying the order. They are not seeking to pull you over during the coronavirus stay at home order.
However, once an officer pulls a vehicle over for an articulable, reasonable suspicion of a violation of the Vehicle Code or criminal activity, it is common for the officer to inquire as to where the operator of the vehicle was traveling to or from. Through these conversations, if it is determined that the operator was not traveling to or from an approved location or for essential work, stricter penalties may apply.
This same standard applies to those taking an Uber or Lyft, which is still permitted, albeit with amplified sanitation procedures, though must also be for an approved purpose.
No need to challenge the standard
So yes, you can get pulled over during the coronavirus stay at home, but there must be reasonable suspicion to do so, based on pre-pandemic conditions noted above.
This is all very new, and hopefully temporary, though the legal implications arising from these unusual circumstances could be far reaching.
While police officers will not be actively searching for stay at home rebels, our advice is simple; just get your toilet paper and go home.