As RI targets NY plates, legal analyst weighs-in on how far it can go

Rhode Island’s National Guard teamed up with local police departments in coastal communities to knock on doors, notifying New York residents about the mandated 14-day self-quarantine.

New York has been called the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak and Gov. Raimondo ordered all people coming into Rhode Island from New York to be placed under the quarantine.

The National Guard began door knocking on Saturday in Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown, North Kingstown, Narragansett, Jamestown, Newport, and Middletown.

Across the eight towns, 30 soldiers were assigned to help local law enforcement.

“We’re actually going to be going driveway to driveway to identify New York vehicles in driveways or residences and we’re going to be going to the doors of the residences at that point to notify them of the mandated quarantine,” said Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey. “We’re pairing up in six teams to do this notification on the door-to-door down in the coastal communities.”

“It’s going to be a community response and everyone has to kid of pitch in on this. So it’s been urgent since day one and we’re just going to continue to push the message and ask people to self-quarantine,”said Major Dennis Pineault with the National Guard.

This comes as the National Guard and State Police set-up check points at the state border for vehicles that have New York Plates.

The problem, according to criminal defense lawyer and professor at Roger William School of Law, Andrew Horwitz, one process of notifying residents seems to be just fine, and the other raises questions about whether it’s constitutional.

“If I am driving a car with a New York plate and I am stopped for no reason other than that I have a New York plate, my constitutional rights have been violated,” Horwitz said. “The constitution doesn’t change under a state of emergency.”

Horwitz said it’s the same reasoning as why DUI checkpoints are not allowed in the state.

He said the Rhode Island Supreme Court already ruled on the issue, but because of the coronavirus crisis in the state, it’s pretty unlikely that anything will change at this point.

“Hard to stop because the courts are closed,” Horwitz said.

Horwitz added that police can knock on anyone’s door for any or no reason at all.

It’s that person’s right to decide whether to answer the door and when they want to stop the conversation.

Horwitz added that the same cannot be said when on a traffic stop where “you have no right to ignore the police or terminate the contact and move on”.

The door knocks will continue Sunday.

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