Criminal Defense Attorney Brian Szmak was recently featured in a WJLA article to discuss Virginia’s long standing “Anti-Mask” and it’s application as the Coronavirus related State of Emergency winds down.
WASHINGTON (7News) — Virginia’s coronavirus state of emergency is expected to end June 30, and when that happens, a Commonwealth law that makes wearing masks in public illegal under certain circumstances will go back into effect.
“If we’re not in the state of emergency, it is unlawful to wear a mask in public so there are certain things we’re working through,” Gov. Ralph Northam told 8News in Richmond earlier this month.
The governor’s press secretary, Alena Yarmosky, told 7News in a statement earlier this week that Northam is hoping to “address any ambiguity during an upcoming special session this summer” but is “confident that no Virginians will be penalized for wearing masks for health reasons.”
Brian Szmak, a criminal defense attorney with the Law Office of Samuel C. Moore in Alexandria, tells 7News that Virginia’s anti-mask law was originally intended to target the KKK. As it’s written, it addresses both masks and hoods “whereby a substantial portion of the face is hidden or covered so as to conceal the identity of the wearer.”
The law applies to those over the age of 16, and contains exceptions for holiday costumes, protective masks used in certain work environments, theatrical productions, and for people with a doctor’s note.
“For those with chronic conditions… you can get a doctor’s note and just stick in your wallet,” Szmak says. But there is no portion of the law that gives a “general waiver,” he adds, which is why he thinks the governor will have to address or amend the mask law in some way very soon. Even when concerns about COVID-19 die down, there may well be an uptick in people wearing masks to protect themselves during flu season, or to protect others when they are ill, Szmak predicts.
And, when it comes to concerns that some have voiced about civil rights, and the potential for being stopped by police while wearing a mask, “I think that’s not unwarranted, “Szmak said. “If you are Black and otherwise doing nothing wrong in a particular area, certainly wearing a mask could be a reason for police to approach you… In theory, as long as you remove it or identify yourself, that goes away.”
Szmak says he doubts very seriously that someone could be successfully charged and prosecuted simply for wearing a mask in public. He’s never seen it happen. If it were to happen, though, violation of the mask law is a class 6 felony that could mean up to five years of prison time.
And the mask law doesn’t just apply to public spaces. The law also applies “upon any private property in this Commonwealth without first having obtained from the owner or tenant thereof consent to do so in writing.”
So, “the consent of the owner matters,” according to Szmak. Though, “I’d be surprised to see businesses in the near future that are actively opposed to masks,” he added.
Read the full article here.
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