In the last two weeks, both the Governor and the Attorney General have warned that New Jersey residents who flout the Governor’s COVID-19 related emergency orders would face criminal prosecution. It appears that those warnings had teeth.
According to media reports over the weekend, law enforcement authorities across the state charged hundreds if not thousands of residents with such violations in just the first three days of April.
In Newark alone, police issued 416 summonses for violations and ordered 24 non-essential businesses closed during that three-day period. Id.
And Lakewood continued to be a hotspot for violations, with multiple social gatherings raided and charges imposed against participants. Id.
It is unclear precisely what types of charges were lodged against individuals who violated the emergency orders without engaging in any threatening or violent conduct.
But individuals who did engage in such conduct were hit with charges such as terroristic threats, aggravated assault, risking widespread injury, endangerment, obstruction, resisting arrest, and criminal mischief. Id.
And individuals who possessed firearms, illicit substances, or other contraband were charged with such offenses as well as violating the emergency orders. Id.
State and local officials hope that such criminal charges serve to deter the general public from violating the emergency orders.
But with the orders’ restrictions likely to continue for some time, and with homebound individuals likely to become increasingly restless, the pace of criminal charges for violations of those orders may well grow, not recede.