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Considering the Legality of Maryland’s COVID-19 Checks

In Encouraging Compliance, Has the State Infringed Upon Our Rights?

With coronavirus numbers exploding nationwide in the US, many states are implementing unprecedented checkpoints, aiming to stop nonresidents possibly carrying the virus. State troopers have been deployed in Florida, Texas, and Rhode Island to intercept motorists at their borders, requiring them to sign forms promising to quarantine for up to 14 days at a specified address. Further, these motorists have been advised to expect possible unannounced visits from state health officials.

Some smaller beach communities, such as those in Delaware, North Carolina, and the Florida Keys, are outright denying entry to any motorists who cannot show documentation proving residency.

Legally, the concept of checkpoints in the United States is constitutionally disfavored. Court precedent limits these setups to certain situations and requires procedural safeguards to minimize arbitrariness. Allowable situations include drunk-driver and seatbelt checkpoints; on rare instances, law enforcement may use them to search for fleeing criminals or escapees.

Maryland law requires any checkpoint deployment by law enforcement be consistent with detailed regulations on communication: Motorists must be given adequate warning and a chance to turn around before reaching the stop. Outside of this framework, checkpoint deployment in Maryland would amount to an infringement of a driver’s constitutional rights.

Should Police Compliance Checks Be Limited in the Same Way?

Maryland leadership, while maintaining strict stay-at-home orders, has yet to impose checkpoints for COVID prevention. “We will not randomly stop community members on the road,” a statement from the Montgomery County Police Department recently said. However, over 16,800 compliance checks have been conducted by the Maryland State Police statewide to enforce Governor Hogan’s March 30 executive order mandating that citizens stay at home, with very limited exceptions. 28 citizens have been arrested thus far, and the Governor’s order remains in effect indefinitely.

From a legal standpoint, the threat of illegal checkpoints, and even enforcement of the Governor’s order, which could result in a criminal conviction, fines, and serious jail time, is very concerning. Even in the name of crisis management, any suspension of our sacred constitutional protections should be analyzed critically and with the rights of our citizens held paramount. At Alpert Schreyer Poe, LLC, our criminal defense team, comprised exclusively of former Maryland prosecutors, views every case through this specialized lens. We remain open and ready to vigilantly advocate for any new client who suspects their constitutional rights have been violated.

Contact our team if you think you were wrongfully charged for violating the stay-at-home order. We’re available at (301) 321-7277 or online.

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