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Coronavirus Crimes: Enforcement of COVID-19 Executive Orders in New York

The spread of the Coronavirus in New York State and City, as well as Westchester, Rockland and other suburban counties, has impacted us all in almost every facet of life from stay-at-home orders to social distancing. The criminal justice system is no exception. In fact, defense attorneys who regularly practice in the “trenches” are fully aware of the drastic changes to arrest procedures and the COVID-19 arraignment process implemented in the criminal courts throughout the state. Similarly, the pandemic has significantly altered the petition process for a Domestic Violence Family Court Order of Protection, the application of various criminal statutes, and how the NYPD and other police departments are allocating their resources to protect the public.

Taking Executive Orders Seriously: NYPD Stepping Up Enforcement

Do not underestimate the distance the police will go to ensure adherence to Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio’s orders. Although in the relatively early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, NYPD officers visited 1,647 grocery stores and pharmacies, and 5,559 bars, restaurants and clubs in a single day to ensure that all of these businesses were in compliance. In that same day, 4,111 of those bars, restaurants and clubs were shut down, and two people were charged in connection with one of those clubs in Queens. In addition, another person was charged in the Bronx for failure to comply with the various directives.

The Crimes and Sanctions: Legal Penalties for Violating the Law

Whether criminal or financial in nature, there are real consequences for people and businesses violating Executive Orders including those involving social distancing.

New York Penal Law

There are ordinary and routine criminal charges from the New York Penal Law that have become newly and more broadly applicable under the current circumstances. Some of offenses are as follows:

Obstruction of Governmental Administration in the Second Degree, Penal Law 195.05, makes it a crime to "intentionally obstruct[], impair[] or pervert[] the administration of means of intimidation, physical force or interference..." This offense is a class “A” misdemeanor and punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine not to exceed $1,000.00.

Criminal Nuisance in the Second Degree, Penal Law 240.45(1) criminalizes behavior where you "knowingly or recklessly creates or maintain[] a condition which endangers the safety or health of a considerable number of persons." A class “B” misdemeanor, this would stay on your permanent record even if the potential jail time is “only” three months and up to a $500.00 fine.

Disorderly Conduct, Penal Law 240.20(5), makes it unlawful and a non-criminal violation to congregates with other persons in a public place and refuses to comply with a lawful order of the police to disperse. If convicted, a judge could sentence you to jail for up to fifteen days and fine you $250.

Public Health Law

If you willfully violate or refuse to comply with a NYS, NYC or a local Health Department regulation, then you could run afoul of section 12 or 12-B of the Public Health Law. While PBH 12 is a civil violation and PBH 12-B a crime, both carry a significant punch. In fact, as of April 1, 2020, the state now allows for a civil violations up to $2,000 for a first time offense and as much as $5,000 for a second violation. Criminally, a conviction of PBH 12-B is not only a misdemeanor but a judge can incarcerate you for up to one year and fine you $10,000.00.

Rules of the City of New York

The Rules of the City of New York has numerous potential offenses and sanctions applicable to the Coronavirus. 56 RCNY §1-07 outlines some of the various penalties including civil penalties and fines. Recognize, however, that some RCNY offenses are misdemeanors.

In addition to “Unauthorized presence in park when closed to public,” which is a violation punishable by a fine, more serious criminal charges are on the books. One example is 56 RCNY § 1-03(c)(1) / Admin. Code § 18-146(c)(1), “Failure to comply with directives of police, park supervisor, lifeguard, peace officer.” If you are convicted of this misdemeanor you would find yourself with a criminal record on top of potential jail and a civil fine of $250. Similarly, 56 RCNY §1-03 (c)(2), “Failure to comply with directives of other Department employee,” is a violation punishable civilly by a fine and jail.

General Business Law

New York as an anti-price gouging statute at the state level, enforced by the NYS Attorney General. This statute, Section 396-r of the New York General Business Law, prohibits unconscionably excessive pricing of necessary consumer goods and services during any abnormal disruption of the market. This clearly applies to the current situation in which American lives have perhaps never been more significantly and unexpectedly disrupted, along with all markets. In the context of the current COVID-19 crisis, this statute most apparently applies to hand sanitizers and other disinfecting products, toilet paper, and basic foods such as milk and bread. Businesses or people who are caught trying to take advantage of the current situation by charging excessive amounts for these kinds of items can be prosecuted by the Attorney General's Office.

Separate and apart from the Attorney General, the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) recently adopted a temporary emergency rule making it illegal to drastically increase prices of certain items in shortage.

Other Laws

Keep in mind that whether criminal or civil in nature, you may also run the risk of ultimately losing or compromising a state issued license or certification along with being saddled with a fine. For example, the State Liquor Authority regulates licensees, and should there be an infraction, the Authority can revoke that license and implement a fine as great as $10,000.

Your Defense, Your Case, Your Future

You can take Governor Cuomo or Mayor de Blasio’s orders lightly and cavalierly, but know that enforcement, should you be subject to it, can be swift, debilitating and embarrassing. If you do find yourself accused with violating one of these directives or rules and facing criminal or violation charges as a result, protect yourself and ensure that experience, knowledge and advocacy is your path to the best strategy and defense. The defense lawyers and former Manhattan prosecutors at Saland Law stand ready to protect you today and from the consequences you may face tomorrow.

Call the New York criminal defense attorneys and former Manhattan prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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