You still have constitutional rights even during Governor Walz’s “Stay at Home” order related to the Coronavirus pandemic. One of the great things about living in the United States is that we still retain our Constitutional Rights as citizens even in the most trying of times.
On March 25th, 2020 Governor Walz issued a two week “Stay at Home” order to begin at 11:59 p.m. on March 27th, 2020, that essentially ordered Minnesotans to stay home unless they were going out for necessary supplies and services, medical care, to care for others, or are considered essential employees. The punishment for violating the order is a Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000.00 fine.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers issued a similar “Safer at Home” order earlier this week and there have already been reports of police officers pulling people over to ask what they are doing on the roadway. After pulling them over without legal justification the officers are attempting to search the drivers and their vehicles without permission or legal justification, to look for evidence of possible crimes. A stop under these circumstances can be a violation of the driver’s constitutional rights.
Unreasonable Search and Seizure
The United States and Minnesota Constitution prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures. Under the 4th Amendment we are protected from a warrantless search unless it falls under a list of specific exceptions. In Minnesota, a police officer may conduct a limited traffic stop without a warrant if (1) the stop is justified at its inception by a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity, and (2) the officer’s actions are reasonably related to and justified by the circumstances that gave rise to the stop. State v. Askerooth, 681 N.W. 2d. 353, 364 (Minn. 2004).
What that means is that a police officer cannot just stop your vehicle based on their own curiosity or a mere hunch. They would have to be able to articulate and point to a specific fact such as speeding or failing to signal a lane change in order for the initial brief stop of your motor vehicle to be legal. If an officer instead stops you to inquire about whether or not you’re in violation of the “Stay at Home” order and cannot point to any other fact supporting some alleged criminal activity, the stop may be illegal.
Second, once the officer stops your motor vehicle, their actions must be related to the reason for the initial stop. For example, if an officer stops you for speeding they are within their rights to ask for your driver’s license and insurance information. However, they cannot ask you to exit your vehicle or search any area of your vehicle or person without your consent, absent a few specific exceptions such as smelling an odor of alcohol/marijuana or observing something in your vehicle which is in plain view and easily seen without a search. If an officer orders you out of your vehicle and in their subsequent search finds something illegal, that search and any evidence of criminal activity they found was illegally obtained and is not allowed to be used as evidence against you in criminal court.
We’re Here to Help
While the Coronavirus Pandemic is real and the “Stay at Home” order is for everyone’s benefit, you do not leave your constitutional rights at home when you leave your home under this order. If you know of anyone who is facing legal troubles or who has questions regarding their own traffic stop please have them call us at 763-689-8931 to schedule a free consultation today.
This information is INFORMATION ONLY and does not constitute legal advice nor create an attorney/client relationship.