To combat the spread of COVID-19, Michigan’s Governor issued executive order 2020-21, which provides for misdemeanor criminal penalties if people fail to stop activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life. Stated slightly differently, unless you are engaged in essential activities, you may not be out and about. If you are, and you are caught and convicted, you could end up with a criminal record.
Many people have asked me whether the police can pull you over in order to find out where you are going and whether you are violating this executive order. Very recently, the Michigan Attorney General issued Guidance on Traffic Stops. According to the Attorney General’s Guidance, “the lone act of driving, absent articulable facts of an alleged violation of Executive Order 2020-21, does not satisfy probable cause for a traffic stop.” This means that in theory you cannot be stopped based on the sole fact that you are driving around.
However, if you are pulled over for another reason, such as speeding, failure to signal, or a busted tail light, the police may ask “reasonable questions of the driver”, including the destination and purpose of your trip. Moreover, because this is not considered custodial interrogation, the police are not required to give Miranda Warnings. Depending on the answers given to the police, additional questions may be appropriate to investigate a possible violation of the Executive Order.
One thing conspicuously absent in the AG’s Guidance on Traffic Stops is the fact that the motorist DOES NOT have to answer these questions. This is still the United States of America. The Constitution, and the Right to Remain Silent remain alive and well.
If you are pulled over and asked questions about your destination and purpose, or anything else for that matter, you have the right to politely, respectfully, and kindly tell the officer that you are NOT going to answer questions. Not answering is better than lying. Lying to the police can be the basis of a separate criminal charge. Being polite and respectful is important. After all, the officer and other first-responders are heroically on the front lines to maintain law and order in these uncertain times.
Although not answering questions may result in the officer giving you a civil infraction ticket for the underlying moving or equipment violation, at least you will protect yourself against self-incrimination and a potential criminal charge.
If you or someone you love is in trouble with the police because of a traffic stop, or any felony or misdemeanor, the Law Office of John Freeman is here to help. Stay safe, and stay healthy!
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