Lawyers Plea for Officials to Stop Throwing Virus Shutdown Violators in Jail

May 12, 2020

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers approved a set of principles over the weekend that includes discouraging criminal charges or incarceration across-the-board for coronavirus crimes.

Two months of shutdown orders have begun to wear on many Americans, and folks across the political spectrum are increasingly suggesting it’s time to relax some of the penalties. 

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, who last week rewrote his shutdown orders to make clear nobody should be sent to jail for violating them. He moved after a salon owner in Dallas drew national headlines for refusing to shutter her business, and getting tossed in jail for seven days by a judge who found her in contempt of court.

Gov. Abbott and the NACDL both said it seemed ridiculous to be adding to the jail population with coronavirus offenders. The NACDL also said the average American can’t figure out what the rules are, with so many patchwork policies out there. Sometimes that means different guidance from state and local officials.

LSC Board Member John Malcolm, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, said he is sympathetic to some of the concerns over criminalizing coronavirus shutdown conduct. 

“Judges and law enforcement officers need to use some common sense and calm nerves, governors could also help by making clear whether they do want to see people tossed in jail over violations,” Malcolm said.

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