Courts and law enforcement agencies across the globe are struggling with the ways in which they must reconcile law and order and the dispensation of justice while dealing with impending quarantine’s and government shut downs. For example, the New Jersey Attorney General has issued a directive to law enforcement concerning the prioritization of the types of crimes that should be prosecuted. (Click here for a copy of the directive). As the directive states, “While public safety must always be our primary concern, law enforcement is in a position to temporarily reduce the stress on the courts and county jails as we make charging decisions in individual cases.”

As a result of the language contained in the directive, public safety and victim safety are the primary concerns in the decision-making process as to not only whether to charge, but how to charge, defendants. Thus, the directive instructs law enforcement to consider whether or not it should delay in even charging a defendant based upon the circumstances. As a result, we can expect that non- violent, white collar crimes may not be charged in the foreseeable future, whereas violent offenses such as aggravated assault, murder, and victim safety issues concerning domestic violence and the like will almost certainly not be delayed.

Furthermore, according to the directive, the decision as to how to charge will have a direct impact on the nature of the proceeding and how defendants are brought before the court. Law enforcement may choose to issue a complaint-summons against a defendant that will require him to appear on a date to be determined by the courts. However, in exigent cases concerning public safety or victim safety, the authorities may choose to proceed by way of a complaint-warrant, which require law enforcement to effectuate an arrest and physically present the defendant to appear before a court within the time frames provided under the New Jersey Bail Reform act. [Does that mean quicker?] There may also be a large increase in the number of coronavirus related charges reflecting concerns of public safety and health, with the potential for significant charges to be brought against individuals or businesses that operate in a manner that is considered potentially or actually dangerous to the public. For example, as towns, cities, or even the state order individuals to stop gatherings of any kind over a certain number, individuals or businesses that permit people to congregate could find themselves the subject of criminal charges or license suspensions jeopardizing, among other things, liquor licenses, food licenses, etc.

Due to the current situation, the directive instructs law enforcement to ignore multiple types of violations that could be considered non-serious given the current circumstances. For example, a motorist who is pulled over has been granted, under the directive, a two month extension for all violations concerning expired items such as driver licenses, registration, inspections, etc., although the extension is not applicable to expired driver’s insurance. Similarly, a Local ordinance prohibiting the delivery of goods after certain that would normally be enforced will undoubtedly not be applied to coronavirus related situations, such as a local store receiving a delivery after hours if the delivery was for supplies needed as a result of the pandemic.

Michael Orozco is an attorney with Price, Meese, Shulman & D’Arminio, PC, contact him at (201) 391 3737 ext. 123, or via email at