In so many ways, it’s hard to believe the news stories these days are real. At least three people have been arrested, and potentially charged with terrorism, for coughing in public.
You know how you should never make a joke about having a bomb in an airport?
Apparently, it’s now true that there is no room for jokes about coronavirus in public spaces. If you even attempt one, you might end up in jail.
Michigan Coronavirus “Bomber”
In Mt. Morris Michigan this week, a man was arrested for hanging around a grocery store. Allegedly, he was touching several items inside and outside the store, claiming to have COVID-19. He’s been charged with:
- Falsely threatening people with a harmful substance.
- Malicious destruction of police property.
- Assaulting, resisting, or obstructing police.
However, if he does test positive for COVID-19, he could also be charged with domestic terrorism, a felony charge that carries a potential 20-year sentence.
Pennsylvania Woman Arrested for Terrorist Threats
Pennsylvania is under a similar quarantine to Michigan’s. When a woman purposely coughed in several areas of a grocery store, also claiming to be infected with COVID-19, she was arrested and will undergo a mental health assessment.
The grocery store threw away $35,000 worth of food after the incident.
New Jersey Jokester Not Laughing
In Freehold, New Jersey, a man coughed on an employee and got charged with terroristic threats, harassment, and obstruction.
Apparently, when he was told to back away from a prepared food section of the store, he got closer and purposely coughed on the employee and the food. Then he told her he was infected with the virus.
Terrorism Too Strong a Term for Coughing?
In the case of the man in Mount Morris, perhaps he is mentally ill. It sounds like he’s having problems, based on the news report that he went on to kiss the window of the police cruiser in an attempt to continue to spread the virus.
He has not been tested yet, as he shows no signs of being ill with COVID-19. It is possible that he has a sick sense of humor or was trying to get a rise out of someone during this unsettling time.
However, do we want to lump this incident in with domestic bombings or shootings?
Behavior like this is undoubtedly disruptive. It heightens fear and promotes social unrest. It can’t be defended as good or healthy.
However, should this man be locked up for 20 years because of it? What if someone coughs involuntarily in a grocery store? If we have set a precedent for charging people as terrorists because of it, where will it end?
Charges for Intentionally Spreading COVID-19
We may not get a report about whether this man is infected with the coronavirus. However, here is what Michigan law states about the charge of terrorism (MCL 750.543m).
- A person is guilty of making a terrorist threat if the person threatens to commit an act of terrorism and communicates the threat to any other person.
- It is not a defense to a prosecution under this section that the defendant did not have the intent or capability of committing the act of terrorism.
- A person who violates this section is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 20 years or a fine of not more than $20,000.00, or both.
The Mt. Morris man was also charged with false threats with a harmful substance, a law also designed to combat bomb threats and terrorism.
These types of false reports are punishable by up to five years in prison, and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
He is charged with malicious destruction of police property. This is a four-year felony as a result of licking a car window. Additionally, he is charged with resisting arrest, which is a two-year felony.
The people in the other states are no doubt facing similar charges.
Federal Act of Terrorism
According to CNN, the Justice Department indicated in an official memo, “that those who intentionally spread Covid-19 could be charged on terrorism-related charges, because the virus “appears to meet the statutory definition of a ‘biological agent.'” The charges could lead to life imprisonment.
Law enforcement has made it clear that they will not take acts of spreading coronavirus lightly. Some of these people may see significant jail time for these acts, whether it’s fair or not.
If you are experiencing mental distress as a result of the coronavirus infection or shelter in place order, you need to seek help.
If you are facing charges related to the new world order brought about by this virus, please call my office today for help. Don’t face a felony for a moment of crisis and bad judgment.