SHERIFF'S CORNER: Answering common crisis lockdown questions
We seem to be living in uncertain times. The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has changed the way we live and has taken a toll on our financial, emotional, and legal well-being — living day-to-day not knowing if you will be able to pay your bills, leave your house, or if you or someone close to you will contract the virus.
During the past few weeks, I have received several questions relating to the governor's executive orders, travel bans, enforcement as well as others.
In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I address some of the most common questions that we have received related to the COVID-19 crisis.
This article is current as of April 6. Since this is an ever-changing situation, this commentary was current as to the date it was written.
STAY AT HOME ORDER
Executive Order 2020-21 allows individuals to leave their homes if they are going to work as an essential worker, partaking in outdoor activities, or leaving for the health or safety of yourself or a family member as in going to the store, hospital, bank or drug store. You must also practice social distancing while out for any of these purposes.
Outdoor activities are defined as walking, hiking, running, cycling or any other recreational activity, consistent with remaining at least six feet from other people.
The order also listed essential businesses that could remain open or are required to close. After my travels in all parts of the county, I would say most are complying with the order. Most of the restaurants and bars have switched to take-out, and/or are taking the time to remodel.
A list of all of the governor's executive orders and a list essential workers and businesses can be found at michigan.gov/coronavirus.
TRAVELING ABROAD AND VACATION HOMES
There has been much commentary on those coming up from other parts of the state to visit their cabin or vacation home. Taking the emotion and personal feeling out of the question, I can only tell you what the order allows.
The order specifically states:
(1) To return to a home or place of residence from outside this state.
(2) To leave this state for a home or residence elsewhere.
(3) To travel between two residences in this state.
(4) As required by law enforcement or a court order, including the transportation of children pursuant to a custody agreement.
As the executive order is somewhat ambiguous or rather broad, it does not restrict property owners from coming up to their property. This pertains to a residence, whether you own or rent — I cannot see a difference.
There is a difference when it comes to motels or cabin rentals. They may remain open, but must limit functions and operations. Law enforcement cannot simply "shut them down" as some have suggested.
Under the order, employees at motels are critical infrastructure workers to the extent they “provide temporary or permanent housing for ... shelter for ... otherwise needy individuals.”
Motels may remain open, but they may only engage in activities providing shelter and basic needs. An individual coming up for the mere reason of recreation, I would feel is a violation of the order. This would also have to be supported by the prosecutor in whether he would authorize prosecution on such a violation.
At this time, we have been responding to complaints accordingly and advising business owners of these aspects of the order.
If you must come up to your vacation home, or are a "snowbird" coming back to your summer home, the local health department recommends these guidelines:
1. If you are sick, stay at home and do not leave your residence.
2. If you have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider for assistance.
3. All individuals traveling to seasonal homes or returning from winter homes in other states should self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to your destination.
4. Following the 14-day self-quarantine period, please obey the governor's "stay at home" order and do not go out unless absolutely necessary.
5. All residents, whether full time or seasonal, should adhere to the governor's order and only venture out to obtain essential supplies and services when absolutely necessary. If you do need to go out, please adhere to social distancing protocols and limit the number of people going out for supplies or services.
EXPIRED PLATES AND TITLE TRANSFERS
This has been probably the most-asked question this week: What happens if my plate (tags) are expired, but I cannot get them renewed because the Secretary of State is closed?
We definitely understand the dilemma with the limited hours of operation, as well as some SOS facilities being closed. If your plates have expired during the time of the crisis, we are generally not going to give you a ticket. Now, if your plates expired three months ago, that is a different story.
The same goes for title transfers and vehicle purchases. Be sure to carry a bill of sale and the signed title with you while operating.
Things to remember:
• Never put a plate on a vehicle that does not belong to that vehicle. That is a misdemeanor and you will not receive a break.
• Driving should be limited to basic, emergency, or employment needs. Driving with an expired plate to do something other than what is essential, probably will result in a ticket.
• Most importantly, you must always have insurance on your vehicle regardless of the other items listed above.
STOPPING VEHICLES AT RANDOM
I have received several questions on the stopping of vehicles at random to make sure they are in compliance with the governor's orders. We are not allowed to stop drivers because they are simply traveling on the road, nor are we allowed to conduct checkpoints to make sure drivers are in compliance.
A recent opinion was issued from the Michigan Attorney General in response to this:
Question: May a police officer conduct a traffic stop merely to inquire about compliance with Executive Order 2020-21?
Answer: No. Absent articulable facts that would lead a reasonable police officer to believe the driver of the vehicle was in violation of Executive Order 2020-21, a stop strictly to inquire about compliance is improper.
WHAT WE ARE DOING
I have taken steps to reduce the risk of exposure of deputies and inmates in the jail. Deputies are required to check temperatures of anyone entering the facility, new inmates are being quarantined for a limited period of time, masks are being worn when interacting with the population, and the facility is being sanitized on a continual basis.
We are not taking anything lightly. If someone has flu-like symptoms, we are getting them tested to be on the safe side, as well as commercially cleaning vehicles.
Due to the governor's order directing the release of some MDOC inmates, I looked at our current situation to see if this was an option for us. All releases need approval from the court as such I provided a release list to the court on a few individuals that I felt were close to getting out and were low-risk.
The court did allow me to release one non-violent inmate but did not allow me to release the other non-violent as requested.
For safety reasons and to monitor the current situation, we have increased patrols in the area. I have personally been putting in extra shifts on the road, as well as using our RSO for road patrol with the school being closed.
As recreation is allowed under the order, those individuals that are coming up to ride the trails, or roads open to ORVs, need to make sure that they know what they are doing. They should know the law, and whatever else is required when riding their ORV. If they don't, this is not a time for an educational or learning moment.
If you don't have the proper stickers, you are going to get a ticket. If you are in your ORV and speeding on the roadway, you are going to get a ticket. If you have kids, riding in the bed of your side-x-side, you are going to get a ticket.
I actually wrote 5 ORV tickets last Friday for absolute no-brainers that everyone should know ... whether we are going through a crisis or not.
HOURS OF SERVICE
Our administration office has been closed for the past several weeks to limit exposure. However, due to legal requirements, we are opening up our lobby to very limited hours starting the week of April 6. Our main window will be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to noon for sex offender registrations, pistol purchase permits, document requests, and other minor functions. There will only be limited public contact working through our secure glass window as well as constant sanitation will be in place.
This information is provided to you for clarification of specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law.
If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, it is an honor serving and working for all of you who live, visit and work in Lake County. Working together, we can make a difference.