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Tennessee General Law Blog

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Spreading COVID-19 Now Comes with a Terrorist Charge

Those who purposefully spread COVID-19 could be charged with terrorism. According to CNN citing a Justice Department memorandum, individuals who intentionally spread the coronavirus disease (e.g., by coughing on other people) could face terrorism charges for the “purposeful exposure and infection of others.”

In the memo to federal law enforcement agencies and attorneys, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen insisted that COVID-19 “appears to meet the statutory definitions of a biological agent.” In that regard, intentionally spreading COVID-19 could potentially “implicate the nation’s terrorism-related statutes,” the memo says.

Any threats or attempts to use coronavirus as a weapon against other people “will not be tolerated,” Rosen warned.

A Tennessee Man Arrested for Coughing, Yelling He Had COVID-19

While the possibility of facing terrorism charges for coughing on people might seem surreal, there have been cases of people getting arrested for “spreading COVID-19” all across the country, including in Tennessee.

According to WZTV, a Middle Tennessee man was arrested for “purposefully coughing” on people inside a store and yelling that he had coronavirus. District Attorney Matthew Stowe said that the man was charged with:

The incident occurred at a Walmart in Henry County on April 6. Stowe explained that since coronavirus is such a deadly disease, the government classifies it as “a biological warfare agent.” Thus, spreading the virus is treated as an act of terrorism and is a Class C felony.

The District Attorney also added that while this might seem like a joke to one person, other people might perceive it as a frightening threat to their health and safety.

Two Other Men Arrested for ‘Falsely Communicating a Terroristic Threat’

A few days before the incident, two other men were charged with coronavirus-related criminal charges. According to WVLT, the two separate incidents occurred in Memphis on April 2 and April 3.

In the first incident, Memphis police responded to a disturbance call where they found a 58-year-old man who advanced on officers and claimed he had COVID-19. In the second incident, officers responded to a noise complaint at the home of a 33-year-old man. Police later saw the man posted a picture from his surveillance camera and claimed that the officers were exposed to COVID-19.

These men were arrested for falsely communicating a terroristic threat.

Anyone can Face Terrorism Charges for ‘Spreading Coronavirus’

After the Justice Department’s memo, getting arrested for spreading coronavirus is the new reality not just in Tennessee but also in many other states. Since the memo was released, many state prosecutors have started to charge coronavirus-related cases as terroristic threats and assault.

The memo listed several federal statutes that may be relevant for federal prosecution. The key statute was 18 U.S.C § 2332a, which criminalizes the use of weapons of mass destruction, which include “biological agents” such as viruses capable of causing disease, death, or biological malfunction in other persons.

Unlike many other federal terrorism statutes, Section 2332a does not require prosecutors to prove that spreading a virus contains a transnational or foreign element. In other words, people can be charged with terrorism if they intentionally cough on someone even if they are not doing it as directed by a foreign government or terrorist organization.

If you are facing terrorism charges for spreading coronavirus, do not hesitate to contact our Manchester criminal defense attorney at Law Offices of Burch, Morrison, & Stewart. Discuss your defenses by calling at (931) 954-1066.

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