It was at the end of April that Governor Tom Wolf enacted a mandatory face mask law that required anyone entering a store to wear a mask while they shopped. Masks have been said to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 infection by covering the mouth and nose of those that wore them.
Recently, however, a man was charged for refusing to wear a face mask inside a grocery store. The man stated that the masks gave him anxiety, and he had a doctor’s note to prove it. Still, after becoming involved in an altercation with the security guard at the store, the man was charged with disorderly conduct and simple assault. So, what penalties could he actually face?
Disorderly Conduct in Pennsylvania
Individuals that refuse to wear a face mask in Pennsylvania, with a few exceptions, can be charged with disorderly conduct. The Pennsylvania statute states that disorderly conduct occurs when a person engages in a fight, makes an unreasonable noise, uses obscene gestures or language, or creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition. All of these actions must be done with an intent to cause harm, public inconvenience, alarm, or annoyance.
Penalties for Disorderly Conduct in Pennsylvania
Disorderly conduct can be classified as either a misdemeanor of the third degree or a summary charge. When a person causes significant harm, serious inconvenience, or they continue to engage in disorderly conduct after a warning or request to stop, they may face charges of a misdemeanor of the third degree. All other instances of disorderly conduct are likely to be treated as a summary offense.
A misdemeanor of the third degree in Pennsylvania carries with it a penalty of up to one year in a state prison and a maximum fine of $2,500.
Defenses to Disorderly Conduct
To charge a person with the more serious charge of misdemeanor of the third degree, the prosecution must prove that the individual had intent to cause serious harm or intent. This is a difficult task for the prosecution, as proving intent is always a challenge.
The Commonwealth must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had been asked or warned to stop their behavior and they did not comply. In the case of face masks specifically, this is difficult even though the state has issued warnings through every available media outlet. Still, there is a possibility that the defendant had not heard the warning. The prosecution though, still has the burden of proof to show that the defendant was warned.
It is true that typically, ignorance is not a defense to the law. This is true for laws that are well established. With a new law, such as the face mask law, ignorance may provide a valid defense.
Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers can Help
Although most Pennsylvanians are doing their part to stop the spread of COVID-19, there are times when individuals cannot comply with current guidelines, such as when a medical condition prevents them from doing so. Still, overzealous law enforcement may bring charges. If you have been charged with disorderly conduct or any other charge during this global crisis, call our Allentown criminal defense lawyers at van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin. We understand what the prosecution must prove and will refute their arguments while creating a strong defense for you. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or contact us online to arrange a confidential meeting with one of our attorneys.