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Can you be fined for breaking COVID-19 lock down and face mask rules?

Governor Baker has extended the stay at home order until May 18, 2020. In addition, the governor has now added the requirement to wearing a face mask while in public. The penalty of not following the orders is a fine up to $300. Let's take a look at the legal issues behind the orders.



Can the Governor require people to wear masks in public?


Yes. The governor has declared a state of emergency. With the state of emergency a governor has increased executive powers. The state of emergency is related to an health issue created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Where there is information connecting wearing face masks to reducing the chances of COVID-19 transmission, the governor can require face mask as a public health concern.


Can the Governor punish people for not wearing face mask?


Yes. With the current order the penalty is a civil fine. Once again a governor can use his power to civilly fine a person for disobeying the executive order of requiring a face mask while in public. The penalty is not criminal in nature so there wouldn't be violating a person's rights against cruel and unusual punishment. Should the governor make the penalty a criminal one with people being arrested, a person's freedom would be in question. If a person's liberty is in question, the legal analysis would be a lot different.


Can church groups violate the order?


Maybe? In the news there was a church openly defiant of the stay at home and face mask orders. The church continues to hold gatherings of over 10 people and at least a several if not all people were not wearing a mask. Freedom of religion is a right protected by the constitution. Whether a governor can prevent an religious gathering of more than 10 people or penalize those who are defiant by assessing a fine is an issue that the courts need to determine. Essentially, this would pit a governor's power to protect the public verses a person's right to freedom of religion.


Can a person protest with a gathering of over 10 people?


Maybe? There has been protests throughout the United States from people who want to see the lock down ended. Massachusetts has not been immune from such protests. Some of the protests have been large gatherings of individuals who are not wearing masks and are standing very close to one another. People do have a right of public assembly and to gather to protest. There are certain limits to that right to ensure the safety of the public.


For example, protesters are allowed to gather, but the law doesn't allow them to gather in unsafe places such a blocking off a highway with cars traveling at high speeds. Most reasonable people could see that standing in the middle of a highway to protest is a dangerous ordeal, especially with drivers driving at high speeds.


If a protester is fined for not wearing a face mask or for not obeying social distancing rules while protesting, it is unclear if a court would uphold such a fine. With courts being closed until June 1, 2020, these issues will not be resolved anytime soon. It will be interesting to see the new case law that is developed from the issues that COVID-19 has brought upon our society.






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