The criminal charge for disobeying the Governor’s order in Louisiana is listed in La RS 29:724. This statute, informally known as the Louisiana Stay at Home Law, provides for the general power of the Governor to issue executive orders to meet his obligation of meeting the dangers to the state. This is the statute that provides the authority to issue an emergency or disaster. He can state the extent of the emergency or disaster by detailing the area of emergency, nature of the emergency, and the conditions which have brought it about or which make possible the termination of the state of disaster or emergency. He may cancel the declaration of emergency as he sees fit. Once he exercises that power and emergency is declared, if someone violates that order, they can be criminally prosecuted and go to jail for six months.
The declaration of emergency by the Governor is important because it then allows the Governor to do the following:
(1) Activate the state's emergency response and recovery program under the command of the director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
(2) Direct and compel the evacuation of all or part of the population from any stricken or threatened area within the state if he deems this action necessary for the preservation of life or other disaster mitigation, response, or recovery.
(3) Control ingress and egress to and from a disaster area, the movement of persons within the area, and the occupancy of premises therein.
Additionally, La RS 29:724 grants power to the Governor to do the following:
1) Suspend the provisions of any regulatory statute prescribing the procedures for conduct of state business, or the orders, rules, or regulations of any state agency, if strict compliance with the provisions of any statute, order, rule, or regulation would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the emergency. Basically, he can change regulatory laws that affect state business in furtherance of meeting the danger to the State.
(2) Utilize all available resources of the state government and of each political subdivision of the state as reasonably necessary to cope with the disaster or emergency.
(3) Transfer the direction, personnel, or functions of state departments and agencies or units thereof for the purpose of performing or facilitating emergency services.
(4) Subject to any applicable requirements for compensation, commandeer or utilize any private property if he finds this necessary to cope with the disaster or emergency. He could seize private land and/or movables upon paying the private owner compensation.
(5) Prescribe routes, modes of transportation, and destination in connection with evacuation. We see this power exercised during hurricanes.
(6) Suspend or limit the sale, dispensing, or transportation of alcoholic beverages, firearms, explosives, and combustibles.
(7) Make provision for the availability and use of temporary emergency housing. For example, he can turn the Baton Rouge Centroplex into housing for evacuees such as during Hurricane Katrina.
La RS 29:724(E) is the provision in the statute that criminalizes the violation of the order by any person or representative of any firm, partnership, or corporation. Therefore, if any individual person or group does not abide by an emergency order by the Governor of Louisiana, he could be facing jail time.
For example, Mark Anthony Spell, (Aka: Tony Spell), Pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in Central, Louisiana was issued a summons for 6 counts of violating the Louisiana Governor’s executive order under LA R.S. 29:724E. It is alleged that he held church services that exceeded the number of patrons allowed to gather at one time.
Generally, a misdemeanor summons is issued by a police officer and hand-delivered to the defendant. Therefore, the defendant has been served with notice of a court date if one is present on the summons. Either way, he is notified of the charge against him. Instead of issuing a summons, a police officer could arrest the suspect, requiring the issuance of a bond or some assurance to the court that the defendant will appear to court. The summons or arrest is based on probable cause to believe that the suspect committed the crime. It is then left up to the District Attorney to decide on how to formally proceed with the charges against the defendant. The DA has the power to charge someone with whatever he wants. Usually, he will only charge a suspect with what he thinks he can prove.
The penalties for violating this statute include a fine of not more than five hundred dollars and/or confined in the parish jail for not more than 6 months. That sentence could be suspended and the defendant placed on probation for six months, in the discretion of the judge.
On the other hand, the judge could order the defendant to 6 months in jail. In the event the defendant has multiple counts, the judge may be able to sentence the defendant to six months in jail on each count and run the sentences consecutive to one another, stacking the sentences, to increase the length of time a defendant is in jail. For example, if a defendant has six counts and is convicted of all six, the judge could order six sentences on top of each other for a total of 36 months or 3 years in parish jail. Same for the fines of $500/per count.
Although it is a misdemeanor, it is not a charge to take lightly, particularly given the nature of the charge. The judge could be very unhappy with the defendant’s actions, especially during a pandemic when people are dying as a result of the spread of the disease. The judge may view the actions as extremely dangerous and harmful to the community.
There are possible defenses to being charged with LA R.S. 29:724E Disobeying Governor’s Order in Louisiana.
No Intent: The prosecutor must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to commit the crime or that the consequences could follow from his actions. If the defendant never intended a high number of people to congregate in a single place, and that could be shown to the judge, the prosecutor might have a hard time getting a conviction. What if the defendant was intending for fewer people to be present, then others accidentally appeared?
No Violation: The dates and times of the order should be examined to see when the violation occurred versus when the order or amendment to the order was signed.
Violation Didn’t Happen: In the above-example, the State must be able to prove that the number of people exceeded the maximum capacity in the Governor’s Order. It can’t just be alleged by the prosecutor. Facts must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to support the allegation.
If you’ve been charged with violating this statute then you may need a criminal defense attorney in Louisiana for LA R.S. 29:724E Disobeying Governor’s Order in Louisiana, known as the Louisiana Stay at Home Law. Carl Barkemeyer is a criminal defense attorney located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He defends clients for all types of criminal matters throughout Louisiana. Contact him by email or at (225) 964-6720.