The spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania has impacted life in every area of the state, from stay-at-home orders to social distancing. The criminal justice system is no exception.
The COVID-19 pandemic and new rules passed to limit the spread of the virus have created legal issues for a growing number of Pennsylvania businesses. Recently businesses around the state were notified that they could be facing penalties and other repercussions for not abiding the new restrictions. Whether the penalties imposed are criminal or financial in nature, there are real consequences for people and businesses that violate the rules passed in response to the virus.
The rules place businesses in a precarious position: Following the rules to the letter often means decreased revenues, with some business owners even fearing that they could have to close their business completely. But not following the rules can leave businesses subject to fines and even forced closures. What's a business owner to do?
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, restaurants have been warned to end or limit indoor dining, and gyms and theaters have been told to stay closed, but—after nine months of operating during a pandemic—many restaurant, theater, and gym owners say they know how to operate their businesses in a way that will keep customers safe. However, a growing number of Pennsylvania business owners are finding themselves in trouble for violating COVID rules.
Still, the Department of Agriculture has instituted a new system of surprise inspections of businesses and is issuing citations of up to $300 for each day businesses remain open and, if businesses still refuse to close, the Department of Agriculture has said it may refer the owners for criminal prosecution.
The Department of Agriculture's Limited Time Mitigation efforts state:
- All in-person indoor dining at businesses in the retail food services industry is prohibited, including at bars, restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries, social clubs, and private catered events.
- Outdoor dining, take-out food service, and take-out alcohol sales are allowed but are subject to any limitations or restrictions imposed by Pennsylvania law.
The state even created a website for customers to register complaints about businesses that are not following the COVID-19 rules.
While the majority of Pennsylvania businesses are following the mitigation orders, according to a spokesperson for the state of Pennsylvania, it's up to local police departments to decide whether to warn or cite an establishment that violates the rules.
In Bucks County, District Attorney Matt Weintraub indicated that he would be hesitant to bring such charges, saying that he would rather have Bucks County's 39 police chiefs fighting crime than enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.
If you do find yourself accused of violating one of these rules and facing criminal or violation charges as a result, protect yourself. Experience, knowledge, and advocacy are your best way forward. Enforcement, should you be subject to it, can be swift, debilitating, and embarrassing. The Lento Law Firm is ready to protect you today, and from the consequences you may face tomorrow. Contact us today.