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Fact & Fiction: Crimes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Connecticut Defense Lawyers For COVID-19 Crimes

New Haven, Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Assisting Clients During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The spread of the coronavirus, has resulted in many changes to state and local laws. You likely know about laws, local ordinances, and emergency orders that restrict movements, ban gatherings of certain sizes, and require certain people who know they have been exposed to the virus to self-quarantine for 14 days. In general, according to an article in the Connecticut Mirror, crime rates in Connecticut have dropped significantly since the COVID-19 orders went into effect and more people began staying home. Indeed, arrests in April 2020 were “historically low” in the state, particularly traffic crimes. Connecticut saw a 75 percent decline in motor vehicle violations, drunk driving arrests, and vehicular homicide. However, some crime rates increased, such as domestic violence allegations and arrests.

There are some crimes, and concerns about criminality, that are specifically tied to the coronavirus pandemic. For example, is coughing or sneezing on another person illegal? What happens if you only meant it as a joke? Can a person be charged a crime if she or he refuses to wear a mask or to abide by store policies? What about the temporary orders that are designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, such as self-quarantining and safe-distancing? Can you face state criminal charges if you violate quarantine or social-distancing recommendations?

Purposeful Infection, Weaponization, and Terrorism

Can you face criminal charges if you intentionally attempt to expose another person to COVID-19, such as by intentionally coughing or sneezing on another person? And is the situation different if you are only doing it as a joke, or if you know you do not have COVID-19 but want to scare another person?

Back in March, U.S. attorneys and law enforcement officials received a memo informing them that they should consider using federal terrorism statutes to prosecute people who engage in behaviors involving the “purposeful exposure or infection of others with COVID-19.” The memo explained that, “because coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of a ‘biological agent’” under federal terrorism laws, “such acts potentially could implicate the Nation’s terrorism-related statutes.” The memo specifically cited “threats or attempts to use COVID-19 as a weapon against Americans.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, reports have emerged of people intentionally or deliberately coughing on other people in order to infect them with COVID-19. In some cases, people have taken these actions at stores or other retail establishments when they have been asked to wear a mask for the protection of others. In a number of cases, these people have been charged with federal and state crimes for making terroristic threats, as well as for assault. In federal terrorism cases, a defendant may be able to assert the following defenses, for example:

  • Alleged offense did not involve interstate actors and thus does not meet the requirements of 18 U.S.C. § 2332a
  • S. Supreme Court decision in Bond v. United States (2014) suggests that federal anti-terrorism laws were not designed to be extended to in-state matters where state statutes are sufficient to punish a person for criminal behavior

Assault and Breach of Peace

Can refusing to wear a mask or to abide by COVID-19-related store policies designed for safety and public health result in criminal charges?

Under Connecticut law, assault is defined as a situation in which one of the following is true:

  • A person caused injury to another person with the intent to cause injury
  • A person recklessly caused serious injury to another person even if there was no intent to cause injury
  • A person negligently caused injury to another person through the negligent use of a deadly weapon, a dangerous instrument, or an electronic defense weapon (i.e. a Taser)

In order to face assault charges for refusing to wear a mask in a store, a person would have to be harmed by the failure to wear a mask (in this type of case, would need to contract COVID-19). If another person did contract COVID-19 as a result of a person’s failure to wear a mask, the prosecutor would need to prove that the person who refused to wear a mask intended harm, recklessly caused the COVID-19 infection and that the infection constituted a serious injury, or that refusing to a wear a mask amounted to the use of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument (i.e., the coronavirus).

Under Connecticut law, breach of the peace is a crime that can be charged in a variety of situations, including when a person engaged in violent or threatening behavior in a public space, or creates a public and hazardous condition. If a person refuses to wear a mask despite a store requirement, it is possible that the person could face charges for breach of the peace. Since COVID-19 continues to evolve, it is not yet entirely clear whether such charges will be upheld in cases of exposure and infection. It is important to discuss your case with a lawyer.

Quarantine Violations

If you do not follow a quarantine order, it is possible to face reckless endangerment charges under Connecticut law?

To be convicted of such charges, the prosecutor would need to be able to show that you knew you had been exposed to the coronavirus yet violated quarantine and created a risk of harm to others.

Safe Distance or Social Distancing Requirement Violations

Generally speaking, there is not a criminal penalty for violating stay-at-home orders in Connecticut. However, when it comes to safe distance or social distancing requirements, it is possible to face enforcement action for a violation. As opposed to criminal charges in most cases, however, this would be an offense that would result in a citation (a ticket) as opposed to criminal charges, as the Hartford Courant explains.

However, if you know you have been exposed to coronavirus or have COVID-19 symptoms, violating safe distance requirements could lead to some of the charges mentioned above: assault, breach of the peace, and/or reckless endangerment.

Contact Us About COVID-19 Pandemic-Related Crimes

At Duffy Law, we have years of experience representing clients in Connecticut in a variety of criminal defense cases. With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic and new laws and local requirements in place, we know that many Connecticut residents are concerned about their rights and responsibilities with regard to these laws. Indeed, it can be difficult to understand whether local government language is mandatory, or whether it is simply a public health recommendation.

If you have concerns or if you have been arrested or charged with a crime related to the coronavirus pandemic or the spread of the disease, it is extremely important to seek advice from an experienced New Haven criminal defense lawyer. At Duffy Law, an attorney at our firm can evaluate your case and discuss potential defense strategies to help you beat any charges you are facing. Contact Duffy Law online, or give us a call at (203) 946-2000 to find out more about the criminal defense services we offer in Connecticut.

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