Coronavirus-Related Criminal Charges On the Rise
Anxiety levels are understandably high as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps through the U.S. and the rest of the world, with approximately one million infected as of early April. As a result, states such as Florida have issued Stay-at-Home Orders, and law enforcement is taking these orders seriously, arresting those who violate them by holding gatherings in their homes, and even pastors holding Sunday services. Indeed, the pandemic has posed a number of challenges to law enforcement and prosecutors in terms of how to assess crimes associated with particular behaviors, leading to a number of different approaches to these charges, ranging from prosecutors bringing relatively minor charges, such as unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct, or public nuisance, to more serious charges, such as assault, reckless endangerment, and even terrorism in at least one case.
Below, we discuss some of the different criminal charges that have and could be brought in conjunction with the pandemic:
Fraud & Price-Gouging
A number of states, including Florida, have already announced that they are cracking down on price gouging and fraud, whereby parties cannot drastically increase prices on essential items during a state of emergency. In addition, the federal government is already prosecuting its first case against a website that claimed to sell coronavirus testing kits.
One man in New Jersey is being charged with terrorism for allegedly spitting on an employee in grocery store while informing him that he has the virus, while the Department of Justice has already indicated that anyone who intentionally spreads the virus violates federal terrorism laws because the virus qualifies as a biological “weapon” of mass destruction. However, federal terrorism laws require that the offense somehow affect interstate or foreign commerce, and the courts have been hesitant to extend these laws beyond what Congress intended, especially if state laws already exist which adequately punish the behavior. Terrorism charges would be more likely acceptable to the courts in circumstances involving the purposeful spread of the virus amongst specific groups of people.
Assault & Reckless Endangerment
One analogy that has been used for those who know they have tested positive for the coronavirus and proceed to engage in risky behaviors that place others at risk without informing them is HIV transmission (known as criminal transmission of HIV). In Florida, you can be charged with a number of crimes for offenses involving the transmission of bodily fluids from one person to another, including sexual battery, assault, aggravated assault, etc.; a third-degree felony that can result in spending up to five years in jail.
In March, an incident involving a sick passenger landing in Florida who had reportedly received test results before flying out, and suspected that he had the coronavirus, led to one Florida sheriff indicating that the passenger could be charged with culpable negligence, and, if they passed the virus to someone who died as a result, manslaughter. Culpable negligence involves engaging in conduct that shows a reckless disregard for human life. Depending upon whether you inflict harm, you can end up being charged with a second- or first-degree misdemeanor.
If You or A Loved One Is Facing Charges in Florida, Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have any questions about charges that you or a loved one are facing in Florida, contact experienced West Palm Beach criminal lawyer William Wallshein. As a former prosecutor, I have the experience necessary to provide you with the very best in legal representation, regardless of what charges you are facing.