There is no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis has turned our world upside down, leaving us with a great deal of uncertainty about so many things. As a criminal defense law firm, we are expecting even more confusion about individuals’ rights, enforcement of executive orders, and prosecution of federal crimes related to the crisis. For example, in a recent memo to federal law enforcement agencies and U.S. attorneys, Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen said that individuals who intentionally spread the coronavirus could be charged with terrorism. What could this mean to the average American? We take a look.
What Is the Charge?
Apparently, a reaction to white supremacist groups who have encouraged their members who become infected to spread the virus, Rosen said that the “purposeful exposure or infection of others with COVID-19” could be prosecuted under federal terrorism statutes. He further explained that the virus "appears to meet the statutory definition of a 'biological agent,’” which is included in the statute’s definition of a weapon of mass destruction.
How Could it Be Applied?
Because the coronavirus is so highly contagious and easily spread, it is not outside the realm of possibility that someone would intentionally and maliciously try to get someone else sick. In fact, several states have already charged individuals with terrorism for deliberately coughing on people and licking packages in a store. While prosecuting these kinds of actions may make sense, where will federal agents draw the line? If a person who knows they have the virus goes to the grocery store, could he be arrested and charged with terrorism? What if a person with the virus touches another person? We simply don’t know yet how “purposeful exposure” will be interpreted by federal law enforcement officers and U.S. attorneys.
What Should You Do If You Are Charged?
If you or a family member is arrested on COVID-19-related federal charges, talk to a federal defense attorney as soon as possible. Federal terrorism convictions carry severe penalties, including long prison sentences and the death penalty. So much is unknown about this virus and how the courts will handle these charges, but one thing is certain—you have a right to be represented by an attorney if you are charged. Izquierdo Law Firm remains open and available to serve you during this time. Call us to arrange a video chat to discuss your case.