On March 24, 2020, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers issued Emergency Order #12 - “Safer at Home”. The Order is intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus by requiring Wisconsin residents to practice certain forms of social distancing and quarantining. While the Order places severe restrictions on travel, it contains a number of exceptions, including allowing individuals to leave their homes for essential activities, such as grocery shopping, essential business operations, and recreation.
The Safer at Home Order is enforceable by any local law enforcement official. Violations of the Order are punishable by a fine of up to $250 or a jail sentence of up to thirty days.
In an effort to force compliance with the Order, some law enforcement officers have stopped motorists, who are otherwise not committing any crime or traffic violation, simply to determine whether they are traveling for a purpose permitted by the Order. Such stops are unconstitutional.
The 4th Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable seizures. For a seizure to be reasonable, the law enforcement officer must have a reasonable suspicion that wrongful activity is taking place.
Because of the numerous exceptions to the Order’s quarantine rules, an officer’s observation of a motorist traveling during the Order is not sufficient justification for a traffic stop. An officer cannot form a reasonable suspicion that a motorist’s travel is or is not permitted by the Order simply by virtue of observing that person traveling on the roadway. No such suspicion can be formed without questioning the motorist.