(Don't) Show Me Your Papers

Posted On April 06, 2020 Charles Ramsay

Now that Minnesota Governor Walz has issued a “State at Home” executive order, a lot of people are wondering if they need travel papers to "prove" that they are permitted to be out of the house. In some other states, such papers are actually mandatory, which adds to the confusion here in Minnesota. 

It is true that on March 25, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued Executive Order 20-20. The order states, in part:

“Beginning on Friday, March 27, 2020 at 11:59 pm through Friday, April 10, 2020 at 5:00 pm, all persons currently living within the State of Minnesota are ordered to stay at home or in their place of residence except to engage in the Activities and Critical Sector work….”

Further down in the executive order, the Governor makes it clear that it is a crime to violate the order: “Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes 2019, section 12.45, a person who willfully violates this Executive Order is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction must be punished by a fine not to exceed $1,000 or by imprisonment for not more than 90 days.”

Many Minnesotans have interpreted this order to mean that we cannot leave our homes, and if we do, we had better carry papers in an attempt to prove that they are permitted to leave for a permitted purpose.

Nothing in the executive order requires this. The belief may come from Italy’s lock-down order which went into effect in early March. Italy’s order required those traveling outside their homes carry a “self-declaration” form to justify movement. 

Even in the United States some governments have imposed what we believe to be unconstitutional “rules.” The best – or worst – example comes from Rhode Island. Last Friday the Governor ordered law enforcement officers to stop cars and knock on doors in coastal communities to identify people who've been to New York state. Not to be outdone, Florida has set up road blocks to restrict access to non-Floridians.

Even in a crisis, this type of government action is absurd.

Throughout the times some governments have required people to carry papers to prove who they are, who they are not, whether they are entitled to be somewhere, etc. Some of the more notable examples come out of Nazi Germany (Think, "YOUR PAPERS, PLEASE!" -in a exaggerated German accent). 

Conversely, two of our fundamental rights are freedom of travel and of association. While our country is in crises, I understand some limited and reasonable exceptions can and should be made. However, I personally and professionally draw line with having to carry papers to justice one’s travel within the country. Are cops going to have check points? If they pull you over, will they require you to state your business? And if you cannot satisfy the government agent, what action with the government agent take? Will you be fined? Arrested? 

Minnesota’s governor has specifically said we don't need to carry written documentation to justify our presence on the street. Not only that, one of the permitted activities is to drive for “pleasure.”

Ramsay Law Firm, PLLC, is a criminal defense firm. We fight for our clients' civil rights -- and therefore the civil rights of all of us. We believe we are more knowledgeable about the laws, and the interpretation of those laws, than the layperson. 

Some Minnesotans believe it prudent to carry a document “just in case.” We strongly discourage this behavior. It is unnecessary, and tells the world you are the type of person who falls for the Facebook meme, often posted without citation; that you are sheep, acting on uninformed rumor; or at a minimum, you have no backbone to stand up to the government when needed.  

Stay home when possible, stay safe when it's necessary to leave your home, and exercise every precaution when it comes to containing this virulent virus. But also, please, don't forget that you are an American, and that our standards of freedom are only as strong as the individuals who exercise the rights afforded them by our Constitution. 

Charles Ramsay