Spreading COVID-19 a Terrorist Act
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted millions across the globe. The rapid spread of COVID-19 and the contagiousness of the virus prompted most states, including Georgia, to issue stay-at-home orders.
The panic surrounding the coronavirus spread became so intense that the U.S. Department of Justice released a memorandum warning that the purposeful spread of COVID-19 can be classified as a terrorist act.
During these unprecedented times, anyone can be convicted of committing a terrorist act by coughing on others or otherwise “spreading” the virus, which is why you need a knowledgeable Atlanta criminal defense attorney to avoid legal consequences that could severely impact your life.
Purposefully Spreading COVID-19 Could Result in Federal Terrorism Charges
On March 24, 2020, the DOJ released a memo called “ Department of Justice Enforcement Actions Related to COVID-19,” in which it warned that purposefully spreading coronavirus or threatening to transmit the virus could amount to federal terrorism charges.
A person could be charged with terrorism for intentionally coughing on others or committing another form of “purposeful exposure and infection” of others. After the release of the memo, which was sent to federal law enforcement agencies, state prosecutors across the U.S. started to charge coronavirus-related cases as terrorist acts, terroristic threats, and assault.
The memo encouraged law enforcement officials to use federal “terrorism-related statutes,” including 18 U.S.C § 2332a, which criminalizes the use of “biological agents,” to prosecute offenders in COVID-19 cases. Coronavirus or any other virus capable of causing disease or death meets the definition of a biological agent under the federal law.
COVID-19 Terrorist Acts vs. Terrorist Threats Under Georgia State Law
Georgia state law criminalizes both terrorist acts and terrorist threats. Under O.C.G.A. §16-11-37, an individual commits the offense of a terrorist threat upon threatening to:
- Commit any crime of violence, including aggravated assault and murder and manslaughter;
- Burn or damage property; or
- Release any hazardous substance.
Meanwhile, a person commits a terrorist act when:
- Using a burning or flaming symbol, such as a cross, to terrorize others;
- Shooting or throwing an object at a motor vehicle or another form of transportation that is occupied by passengers; or
- Releasing any hazardous substance.
The above-mentioned acts can be classified as “terrorist threats” or “terrorist acts” when the offender has the intent to:
- Terrorize another person(s);
- Cause the evacuation of a building or public transportation facility;
- Otherwise causing serious public inconvenience; or
- In reckless disregard of the risk of committing the terrorist act to cause terror, evacuation, or inconvenience.
Penalties for Terrorist Acts and Terrorist Threats in Georgia
Both the terrorist act and terrorist threat offenses carry serious penalties upon conviction.
- When the offender commits a terroristic threat by threatening violence other than death, the crime could be charged as a misdemeanor with no more than 12 months of imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000.
- When the offender threatens death to another person, he or she could face a felony charge punishable by a maximum five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $1,000.
- A conviction for committing a terrorist act carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence and up to $5,000 in fines.
- If any person suffered a severe bodily injury or death in the commission of a terrorist act (for instance, another individual actually contracted COVID-19 and developed serious illness), the offender could face up to $250,000 in fines and a maximum of 40 years of imprisonment.
Speak with our criminal defense attorneys at Ghanayem & Rayasam, LLC, if you are being accused of a terrorist act or threat in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. Call at (404) 561-0202 for a case evaluation.