Stay At Home Orders: Will I be arrested if I go out?

By Attorney Stephanie Messplay

What happens if you go outside right now?  Could you get arrested?  

First, Governor Inslee’s stay at home order should not be confused for a “shelter in place” order.  You are still permitted to go to work if you work for an essential business.  You are still permitted to make essential trips, such as the grocery store, pharmacy, doctor’s office, or veterinarian.   You may still go outside for exercise – and you’re encouraged to do so, to keep yourself healthy!   What you cannot do is gather with others, whether indoors or outdoors, public spaces or private.

Second, most police departments have stated that they will not be arresting anyone for violating Governor Inslee’s stay at home order and will instead be using this time to educate people about the need to stay home and physically distance themselves from others.  For instance, the King County Sheriff’s Department has issued the following statement:  “The Governor is not asking law enforcement, including the King County Sheriff’s Office, to actively enforce the stay at home order and we see no need to do so. Instead, if our deputies see banned gatherings, we will take an educational approach and remind people of the current restrictions issued by the Governor.”  The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office has also stated that they intend to focus on education, not arrests: “When officers and deputies encounter people not complying with an order, we will remind them, as appropriate, of the recommendation and restrictions.” We recommend that you check your local law enforcement’s website or social media account if you want to know their official stance on the order.   Links to some of the statements that have been issued can be found below.

Finally, just because the police are not making arrests does not mean that you should ignore the order.  We have heard reports that people are getting pulled over and asked where they are going (unconfirmed reports) and that the smart answer is: “well, gee, I am heading to the grocery store.”  If you do get “pulled over”, then we predict it will be like getting a warning and some education.  Be nice to law enforcement (of course) and try not to cough or sneeze on them if they come to your window.  Better advice is to stay home and stay 6+ feet away from others, which we are told prevents the virus from spreading and helps keep you and your loved ones healthy. 

Official Statements:

King County Sheriff’s Department

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

Clark County Sheriff’s Department

If you have any questions about the order, please email us or give us a call.  We are all in this together!

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