MEADVILLE — Crawford County District Attorney Francis Schultz issued a statement on Tuesday regarding law enforcement and potential action against businesses that open in alleged violation of orders from the governor’s office.
“Upon learning that Governor Wolf would be announcing an order prohibiting the operation of businesses that the Governor deemed non-life sustaining, I informed our municipal police departments that it was really up to their municipal governing body and the individual police department as to whether they would get involved in the enforcement of the governor’s order,” Schultz wrote in the statement. “I also informed them that maybe it was an issue that was really between the business owner and Governor Wolf. Additionally, I had similar conversations with some members of our local Pennsylvania State Police.”
Schultz explained the statutes related to alleged violations of Wolf’s order. “Both statutes classify violations as summary offenses. Summary offenses are the lowest level of criminal offense in Pennsylvania. Upon conviction, one statute mandates a fine of not less than $25 and not more than $300 and the payment of court costs. Upon conviction, the other statute mandates a fine of not less than $10 and not more than $50 and the payment of court costs.”
Summary offenses may be filed by the police with no prior approval from the district attorney’s office. Disorderly conduct, harassment and certain violations of the vehicle code are examples of summary offenses. The district attorney’s office does not routinely participate in the prosecution of such summary offenses at the Magisterial District Judge level of the court system. The police officer handles the prosecution at the Magisterial District Judge level.
Schultz added, “If an individual is convicted of the summary offense, he or she can file an appeal to the court of common pleas. My office does handle the summary appeal proceedings at the court of common pleas level. Because my office does not routinely participate in summary proceedings held before Magisterial District Judges, my office will not be involved in the prosecution of alleged violations of the Governor’s order. The police departments in our county have discretion regarding whether to file one of these alleged summary violations. I have requested that before a citation is filed, that my office be contacted. I believe that only in an extraordinary circumstance would the filing of such a summary charge be warranted.”
“I do not believe that it is the role of the police to be involved in determining which businesses are life-sustaining and which businesses are not,” Schultz continued. “I also do not believe that criminal court is the most appropriate arena to litigate such matters. If businesses choose to operate in violation of the Governor’s order then the Governor and/ or the Pennsylvania Department of Health may seek redress in the civil courts in an effort to have the business comply with his order. If the business holds a state license then the state licensing agency may attempt to enforce the order through administrative means.”
“I am not advocating that businesses reopen,” Schultz wrote. “I am simply letting people know that my office will not be involved in the prosecution of any alleged violations of the Governor’s order unless extraordinary circumstances are present.”
“I believe that the citizens of Crawford County and our business owners have done an admirable job in going above and beyond what is necessary to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus,” Schultz added. “I would expect such efforts to continue.”