Is saying you have COVID-19 a terroristic threat?

Did you know that it is illegal to make a joke about having a bomb at an airport or on an airplane? Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT a violation of your First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech; rather, it’s a one-way ticket to an arrest by the FBI under the bomb hoax statute (18 U.S.C. 35).

Now, thanks to COVID-19, it may also be illegal to state that you have the coronavirus as evidenced by the arrest of three people in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex over the last couple of days.

Along with two men who allegedly coughed in people’s faces stating they had COVID-19, a young Denton County woman is accused of posting on Snapchat that she would cough on people to infect them with COVID-19. Each of these people have been arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat. Terroristic threat charges can range from as low a class B misdemeanor to as high a third-degree felony.

In a recent WFAA Channel 8 (ABC) news story, the Fort Worth police commented, “The seriousness of the current COVID-19 crisis cannot be understated and any threat of using the virus, whether infected or not, will be vigorously investigated and appropriate law enforcement action will be taken.”

These people have learned the hard way that saying you have COVID-19 is not a joking matter.

What happens if you’re charged with a terroristic threat?

As mentioned above, the charge for this type of activity can vary. The men ended up with lesser charges brought against them as they placed only one person in fear—the person whose face they coughed into. The young woman who allegedly thought it would be funny to share via her social media stream that she had been tested and was heading to a Walmart to spread the virus to people is seen as much more serious as her actions could cause a panic among a greater number of people. In her scenario, the police will attempt to prove that her Snapchat videos did in fact cause fear to others.

Because her actions could have caused a greater breadth of fear, she finds herself charged with a third-degree felony that, if convicted, is punishable by two to ten years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

In addition to the charges, she finds herself in the Denton County jail with a bond set at $20,000 with the following options:

  • Her family could pay a cash bond with the hope of receiving their money back, that would mean the family must give Denton County $20,000 in cash to keep her out of jail.
  • Her family could use a bail bonds company. The out-of-pocket for that will probably be around 10% or $2,000. This money is non-refundable.
  • Her third option would be to stay in jail for 90 days before her attorney can request a Personal Recognizance (PR) Bond.

No matter which option is pursued, once out of jail, this young lady will have to truly quarantine herself by remaining inside her house for 21 days as a condition of her bond. Thus, she will essentially be on house arrest due to her poor taste in humor. If she leaves her home at all during this house arrest, it will be a violation of her bond and she will be back in jail until her case is finished, which could be a very long time due to COVID-19.

The ramifications of her actions could extend beyond criminal charges she’s facing. If someone in that Walmart ends up sick with COVID-19, they could file suit against her under tort law.

For someone with children, the reach of a few misspoken words or social media posts could extend to Family Law issues in the form of limited and/or restricted custody and visitations as well.

COVID-19 is turning the world upside-down and people are getting antsy. However, be careful of what you are saying, how you are saying it, to whom you’re saying it, and where you are saying it as it can come back and bite you.

To Help Resolve Your Legal Issues, Consult Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers

If you have legal questions or concerns regarding your case or any issues before you, you may want to speak with an experienced attorney from Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers. With years of experience practicing in Texas, we can advise you about the appropriate course of action for preserving your legal rights.

Please call Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers at (940) 293-2313, or contact our office online to schedule an video or phone consultation today.

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