What Would It Mean if the U.S. Declared Martial Law During the COVID-19 Outbreak?

While many people envision times of martial law with tanks in the streets and soldiers with rifles instructing people to stay in their homes, this is not necessarily what a declaration of martial law would mean during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For example, when asked about California governor Gavin Newsom’s comment that he would consider declaring martial law if necessary, Brian Ferguson, spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said that any utilization of martial law would be “a humanitarian mission to support health and safety.”

However, when addressing rumors about the possibility of a martial law declaration, Florida Senator Marco Rubio said in a now infamous tweet, “Please stop spreading stupid rumors about marshall [sic] law. COMPLETELY FALSE. We will continue to see closings & restrictions on hours of non-essential businesses in certain cities & states. But that is NOT marshall [sic] law.”

Although Senator Rubio’s misspelled tweet may have been somewhat ill-advised, it does underscore an important point: If martial law is declared at the state or federal level, things will look very different than they do today.

What Happens During a Declaration of Martial Law?

During a declaration of martial law, civil order is maintained through military intervention rather than democratic rule via the three independent branches of government. However, this does not mean that the military acts in isolation without the engagement of government agencies or the private sector. In fact, while the U.S. military has extraordinary resources and capabilities, even the military is incapable of fighting the coronavirus outbreak and preventing civil unrest on its own. Businesses still need to supply essential goods and services, and government agencies still need to lend their personnel and expertise while also simultaneously working to prepare for a return to the status quo.

What Are American Citizens’ Rights During a Declaration of Martial Law?

That said, as we mentioned above, if the U.S., Florida, or any other state declares martial law during the COVID-19 pandemic, things will change dramatically. In addition to the situation on the ground, one of the most important effects of a martial law declaration is the potential for the suspension of a number of our fundamental rights as American citizens. Rights that can be suspended during periods of martial law include:

  • Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures
  • Freedom of association
  • Freedom of movement
  • The right to trial before imprisonment (suspension of the writ of habeas corpus)

If these rights were to be suspended during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the consequences could be almost unthinkable. Citizens could be stopped and searched for no reason at all, and they could be jailed without proof that they have committed a crime. As Senator Rubio made clear, we are not currently operating under martial law. But, if that changes, people will need to be prepared.

Speak With a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer at Fowler Law Group

If you would like to speak with a licensed Florida attorney about your legal rights during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we encourage you to get in touch. To request an appointment with one of our Florida criminal defense lawyers, call us at (941) 900-3100 or tell us how we can reach you online now.

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