U.S. Department of Justice warned that individuals who intentionally spread COVID-19 or threaten to do so could face terrorism charges. CNN cited a DOJ memorandum, in which the department warned Americans against purposefully spreading the deadly virus or threatening to transmit the disease.
An individual could face terrorism charges for intentionally coughing on another person or other forms of the “purposeful exposure and infection” of other individuals. The memo was sent to federal law enforcement agencies and attorneys.
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen argued that COVID-19 meets the “statutory definitions of a biological agent,” which means law enforcement officials may use “terrorism-related statutes” to prosecute coronavirus-related cases.
Previously, we discussed whether it is a crime to infect another individual with COVID-19.
Making a Terrorist Threat After Coughing on Another Person
Being arrested on terrorism charges for coughing or sneezing on other people might seem bizarre. Still, there have already been multiple cases of Americans getting arrested for attempting to spread COVID-19 or threatening to do so all across the country, including in Georgia.
In April, a Georgia man was charged with making a terrorist threat after he allegedly spat on another man in an attempt to spread coronavirus, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. The 34-year-old man was charged with the Class C felony, court records showed. The man was at the TA Truck Shop in Montgomery, Georgia, when he threatened to spread coronavirus “through spitting and biting.”
The victim called police after the man allegedly damaged property and was acting unruly. His verbal threats came when he was asked to leave. The man threatened that he had COVID-19, which prompted the complainant to clear the business. As it turned out later, the arrested man was not actually positive for coronavirus.
Can You Face Terrorism Charges for Intentional Spread of COVID-19 in Georgia?
According to Georgia Code § 16-11-37, a terrorist action occurs when someone commits any of the following:
- Burns a cross or another burning or flaming symbol to terrorize another person’s household;
- Shoots or throws an object at a transport occupied by passengers; or
- Releases a “hazardous substance” to terrorize others or to evacuate a building.
In Georgia, a conviction for committing a terrorist act carries a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 10 years in prison. However, if any person suffered a severe injury in the process (i.e., another person actually contracted COVID-19 or was otherwise harmed), the offender would face up to 40 years of imprisonment in addition to a fine of up to $250,000.
After the DOJ’s memo, state prosecutors across the nation started to charge offenders in coronavirus-related criminal cases as terrorist threats, acts of terrorism, and assault. The memo listed several statutes that may be used to prosecute persons in those cases, including 18 U.S.C § 2332a, which criminalizes the use of “biological agents” (a virus capable of causing harm, disease, or death meets the definition of a biological agent).
Contact our knowledgeable Atlanta criminal defense attorneys at Ghanayem & Rayasam, LLC, to investigate your case and determine the most applicable defense to terrorist charges in Georgia. Call at (404) 561-0202 to schedule a consultation.