How Likely is Martial Law in California and how Would it Affect my Criminal Case?

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | Apr 21, 2020 | Criminal Defense

There is no plan to put California under martial law. Rumors of martial law in California have been circulating since Governor Gavin Newsom issued his Executive Order on March 19, 2020, ordering Californians to shelter in place at home or their place of residence. The shelter in place order came after the Governor issued a State of Emergency in California on March 4, 2020.

On April 14, 2020, Gov. Newsom outlined factors that need to be considered before the stay at home order would be lifted. The fact that we are discussing modifying the stay at home order may suggest that social distancing and staying at home may be having a positive effect on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why Did the Governor Issue a Stay at Home Order for California?

According to the Governor’s Executive Order, the shelter in place order was issued to protect public health. The intent was to stop the spread of COVID-19 to “bend the curve” for the pandemic in California. If people stay at home, the virus does not spread as quickly.

The order acknowledged that individuals could leave home if their work is related to federal critical infrastructure sectors. Residents could also leave home to obtain essential necessities, including health care, prescription medications, and food. However, residents were advised to follow the guidelines for safe social distancing.

California was the first state to initiate a stay at home order in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Violating the coronavirus lockdown could result in fines and jail time. If charged with violating the coronavirus lockdown, you should contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss your next steps.

Is a Stay at Home Order the Same as Martial Law?

Some conspiracy theorists began shouting the alarm that martial law was coming when President Donald Trump mobilized the National Guard on March 22, 2020, in several states, including California. But, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was clear when he stated that the mobilization of the National Guard was not a move toward martial law.

Secretary Esper explained that the National Guard would be assisting in several states that were hot spots for COVID-19. The states would maintain control over the National Guard so that the forces could be used in the most effective manner to help the states manage the pandemic.

Unfortunately, Gov. Newsom did not help the situation by stating that martial law could be used “if we feel the necessity.” However, there has been no declaration of martial law by the federal government nor any state government during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is Martial Law?

Martial law is the temporary shift of power from civil institutions to military rule in a crisis. The United States has not been under martial law on a national level. Martial law has been initiated a few times in the United States. A well-known example was when Hawaii came under martial law after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

For martial law to take place, there is a breakdown of civil institutions. Instead of courts and legislatures making decisions, control over civilian government is assumed by or given to military forces. National Guard members assisting state governments is not martial law, but the National Guard enforcing stay at home orders could be considered martial law.

When martial law is in place, the military assumes the roles of the police, courts, and other government functions. Martial law would be used if the civilian government could not maintain public order. Our civilian governments are still in force and effect with no signs of wavering.

How Would Martial Law Impact a Pending Criminal Case?

If martial law were imposed, the military forces would have control over the judicial system. Your case could be tried in the same manner and under the same rules as a military case. Instead of being tried in a civilian court with a jury of your peers, you could be subject to a military court.

Again, our country is not under martial law. It is highly unlikely that martial law will occur. So, you should focus on building a strong defense to your criminal charges.

Work with your criminal defense lawyer to decide on a defense strategy that gives you the best chance of a positive outcome. If you have not retained a criminal defense lawyer, it is time to do so now. A criminal defense attorney can review your case and advise you of your legal rights.

To learn more, call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at 213-995-6767 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.