COVID-19 Orders Now Voluntary? They Are In Austin

The Austin Police Department released a statement Wednesday afternoon that puts the shelter-in-place orders into an entirely different perspective:

That such orders to stay home may be voluntary, even if one can receive a ticket for certain unapproved activities. Read below for the image shared to social media and the text.

The Austin Police Department has received several inquiries regarding the Stay Home Work Safe Order [i.e. shelter-in-place]. It’s important to know that this is NOT a mandatory lockdown. APD’s priority is to keep the public safe through education and awareness. Our goal is to gain voluntary compliance, however, if necessary, officers may issue warnings and as a last resort, citations.

The Public Health Order asks that all Austin/Travis County residents avoid nonessential outings and stay inside as much as possible to contain the spread of COVID-19. It’s still fine to leave your home to buy groceries, go for a run, walk the dog, pick up medicine, visit a doctor or travel to and from work (if designated as an essential business).

Additional documentation, beyond regular ID requirements for transportation, is NOT necessary for travel to essential activities or businesses. If you see violations of the order, please make a report by calling 3-1-1.

Meanwhile in Tarrant County (centered around Fort Worth), an order allowing for the seizure of private property has been issued, upping the stakes in the North Texas metro. See below:

From the hip: APD is aware of something, here. While not every locality is willing to publicly admit that the shelter-in-place orders hinge on public willingness to comply, it may be nonetheless true.

This writer is not a lawyer, but will gladly defer to Brent Webster, an attorney and 2016 contender for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, who offered some friendly advice based on the shakiness of recent mandates:

Lawyer Pro-tip for those under a “Shelter in Place” Order in Texas:

If you get pulled over or stopped by authorities in an area where there is a shelter in place order, you have no obligation to provide them any information, other than your identity. Give them your drivers license. If they have questions, decline to answer. If they persist, ask for your lawyer. Be polite and respectful and obey any commands they give to move your body or to remain still. This is not martial law, and your constitutional rights that protect you from self-incrimination are still active. Be smart, follow the law, and keep your distance. But don’t forfeit your rights and subject yourself to prosecution when you can easily avoid it by keeping your mouth shut. […]

The bottom-line here is that there are a lot of legal questions raised by recent orders, including the seizure of private property in Tarrant County as an extreme example. These questions and constitutional challenges will linger in court for perhaps decades. But that does not mean we cannot voluntarily do what is best to contain the virus and keep our families fed — those of us who work for a living, anyway.



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