No Prosecution of Citations Issued in Lancaster County Pursuant to Stay-Home Orders and Business Closures

The Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office will not prosecute citations pursuant to the Disease Prevention and Control Law regarding violations of state-mandated stay-at-home orders and closure orders of “non-essential businesses.”

The Pennsylvania Governor’s administration on May 8 issued the latest extension of its order that non-life sustaining businesses remain closed. The Governor also granted waivers to numerous businesses, allowing those businesses to open while others of their kind remain under closure order.

We find that the Governor’s continuously changing orders - and business waivers – have presented circumstances where criminal enforcement of the orders is difficult. Rapid changes in the definition of what constitutes criminal conduct renders the application of criminal sanctions insupportable.

Accordingly, this office will not prosecute any alleged violations of the state-mandated orders issued in response to COVID-19, nor will it prosecute pursuant to directives of the Governor’s administration regarding the operation of “non-essential businesses.”

The safety and security of residents is the number one purpose and top priority of government. Our office takes that duty very seriously while considering the law as well as its fair and just enforcement.

Specifically, law enforcement officials must be able to consistently enforce the law. Constant and seemingly arbitrary changes in the scope and application of the Governor’s orders makes enforcement prohibitively difficult if not impossible.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and administrative orders from our state officials have placed law-enforcement all across Pennsylvania in uncharted waters,” District Attorney Heather Adams said Sunday. “Our interpretation of existing law in balance with the constantly shifting definitions of what is and is not allowed, per these orders, brought us to this informed decision: we will not prosecute.”

As prosecutors, we have discretion to determine whether to initiate criminal proceedings attached to citations and charges.

District Attorney Adams on Sunday morning corresponded with all municipal police chiefs in Lancaster County, advising them that citations issued under the relevant statute - the Disease Prevention and Control Law - will not be prosecuted.

The chiefs responded, via Lancaster County Chiefs of Police Association leadership, that they are in agreement with our enforcement stance and will proceed accordingly.

We continue to advise police in the county to use a measured approach with business owners and residents by prioritizing education and instruction on CDC safety guidelines and encouraging voluntary compliance. To date, police departments have reported less than ten citations for the entire county.  We were informed that most of those citations were issued because of continued non-responsiveness of a party following repeated police intervention. We credit law enforcement efforts thus far; they have navigated professionally through what is an unprecedented path created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

District Attorney Adams discussed with York County’s District Attorney Dave Sunday the appropriate enforcement response, and joins DA Sunday in his stance that a citizen must be clearly aware of the difference between criminal and non-criminal conduct.

Our stance regarding enforcement regards only criminal statute and penalty. We take no position and offer no opinion on the civil or administrative penalties that may be imposed on any business found to be in violation of the aforementioned orders and regulations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a course without a road map, prompting community leaders to make difficult decisions in strenuous, time-sensitive circumstances. Our office has and will continue to prioritize the health and safety of our residents in a fair, measured and thoughtful approach consistent with the rule of law.

MEDIA CONTACT: Brett A. Hambright, 717-295-2041; bhambright@co.lancaster.pa.us; Twitter: @BrettHambright