As the coronavirus pandemic grows, everyone is concerned about getting sick. This can be tricky since the dangerous part of this virus seems to be that it stays dormant for up to two weeks. During this dormant period, it can be easily be transmitted without anyone being the wiser.
Long before the current wide-spread illness, some states (including Texas) made it illegal to knowingly spread STDs to another person. If you do, it’s classified as a type of assault and can carry serious consequences.
So then what about other viruses…like COVID-19? If you are infected, could you face legal charges if another person gets it? What if you don’t even know you have it?
These are valid questions, and frankly, this is uncharted territory. Texas’ illness-related assault laws are quite specific, and other than the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), there hasn’t been an outbreak with the numbers we’re seeing today in a very long time.
Laws Against Spreading HIV in Texas
The HIV panic of the 1980s brought about many changes in laws around the United States. Many states passed laws making it assault to knowingly transmit HIV to another person.
These laws came about due to a fear that criminally minded HIV positive individuals might weaponize the illness against the public. Without specific legislation, Texas adopted its own policy on the matter.
Those infected with HIV/AIDS who intentionally expose others to the disease may be charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The regulation allows the illness to serve as a deadly weapon, so existing assault laws may be applied when warranted.
So how might Texas assault laws be levied in a case built on accusations related to transmitting coronavirus?
Right now, there isn’t a clear and definitive answer to whether you may be arrested for spreading coronavirus to other people. The virus is so new and is spreading so quickly, law enforcement has only recently even begun to address crimes related to it.
There are, however, two key aspects to how HIV cases are prosecuted which set precedent for bringing charges against someone for spreading coronavirus.
Namely, the concepts of “knowingly acting” and “reckless behavior” lead us to believe these cases could pop up in the near future.
The key here in the law is that a person must know that they are infected. So, if a person who is not displaying any symptoms of the coronavirus, who has not been tested for the coronavirus, infects another person, they should be fine.
If, on the other hand, a person has been tested and knows they are infected, then goes out and infects someone else, even by accident, prosecutors may have a valid case.
A major component of aggravated assault is that an element of recklessness must be present. Recklessness is behavior that could cause injury to another person, even if the intent of injury is not present.
In the case of HIV, this could be engaging with sexual contact with another person without informing that person of your status.
With coronavirus, the case could be made that they have engaged in reckless behavior if they go into a public place knowing they are infected and then infect another person.
Even when there is no intent to infect others, it may be argued that an offender engaged in reckless behavior that caused bodily harm to another person.
In either scenario, an experienced Texas assault attorney will be able to evaluate the circumstances surrounding your case and build a proper defense against charges of aggravated assault.
In the meantime, keep yourself and others safe by taking every precaution to avoid spreading this virus any further.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing law in Texas in 2005. Before joining the Fulgham Hampton Law Group, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their cases. He is Lead Counsel rated, has been named one of Fort Worth’s 3 Best DUI Lawyers, and his skill has earned him recognition from Avvo, Expertise, the National Trial Lawyers, and others.