The coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country has already changed our society in many ways, forcing us to rethink the way we shop, travel and communicate with one another, among other activities we once took for granted. Amid growing concerns about the rapid spread of COVID-19, law enforcement officials and prosecutors have also been compelled to consider how existing laws apply to coronavirus-related crimes, such as intentionally spreading the virus to other people, and how to charge individuals accused of committing such crimes.
For instance, prosecutors in states across the country say that criminal battery charges could be filed against COVID-19 positive people who knowingly infect others with the virus, including their intimate partners in domestic abuse situations. If you test positive for COVID-19 and you take steps to deliberately infect your intimate partner or another person, or if you force your partner to leave your home so he or she gets sick, or prevent your partner from obtaining medical care for COVID-19, you could end up facing charges for criminal battery and/or domestic violence.
Table of Contents
- What is Criminal Battery?
- Coronavirus Quarantine and Domestic Violence
- CDC Recommendations for Protection Against COVID-19
- Coronavirus Cases on the Rise in the U.S.
- Spreading the Illness to Others
- Criminal Charges in Coronavirus Cases
- Domestic Violence Rates on the Rise
- Domestic Violence During COVID-19
- Criminal Battery Related to COVID-19
- Domestic Battery Arrest
- Domestic Battery Conviction and Penalties
- Are You Facing Criminal Charges for Spreading COVID-19?
What is Criminal Battery?
Assault and battery are two separate crimes that are often charged together in cases where a person threatens another person with physical harm and then makes physical contact with the person. Typically, an assault is defined as engaging in “conduct which places another in reasonable apprehension of receiving a battery,” or suffering bodily harm. For criminal battery charges to apply, the person must cause “bodily harm to an individual” or make “physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with an individual” and must act “knowingly without legal justification by any means.”
For instance, a person may be charged with criminal battery if he or she knowingly hurts another person or touches that person in an offensive way. Domestic battery is a type of battery that involves the act of committing battery against an intimate partner or family member. More specifically, domestic battery as defined under 750 ILCS 60 is “abuse, harassment, intimidation of a dependent, interference with personal liberty, or willful deprivation.”
An unintended consequence of the stay at home orders in effect during COVID-19 is an increased risk of domestic violence. Law enforcement agencies across the country have reported a surge in the number of domestic violence cases since the coronavirus quarantine began and the trend is likely to continue at least until the stay at home orders are lifted, with adverse consequences that could persist for long after the quarantine ends.
Illinois domestic violence laws already criminalize domestic battery against spouses, family members and intimate partners. However, with the new circumstances brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, prosecutors are forced to consider a broader application of the law in situations where individuals with coronavirus intentionally or recklessly put others at risk.
For instance, coughing on an intimate partner with the intention of scaring them into thinking they will be infected by the novel coronavirus, or knowing that you have COVID-19 and coughing on an intimate partner with the intent to infect them with the virus, may be considered domestic battery.
CDC Recommendations for Protection Against COVID-19
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has implemented strict protocols for protecting oneself and others from the virus, including washing hands and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces often, wearing masks or cloth face coverings in public, staying at home as much as possible and avoiding close contact with others.
According to the CDC, the novel coronavirus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person contact through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks. If you are in close contact with someone and you cough or sneeze without covering your mouth and nose with a tissue, the inside of your elbow or a face mask, you could spread COVID-19 to someone else.
The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States is on the rise, due in part to increasing laboratory testing and reporting. However, the growing number of coronavirus cases also reflects the rapid spread of the virus, as many cities and states are experiencing community spread.
Community spread means people in an area have been infected with the virus, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected. According to the CDC, people can slow community spread of COVID-19 and decrease the daily number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations by keeping their distance from people outside of their household.
Spreading the Illness to Others
Even if you don’t feel sick, you could spread COVID-19 to others through person-to-person contact. However, people with the virus are thought to be most contagious when they are symptomatic, or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, like cough, fever, headache, shortness of breath or sore throat.
The CDC recommends that patients with symptoms of COVID-19 be isolated either in the hospital or at home while they recover, to avoid infecting others. Nearly every state has issued some kind of stay at home order in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the CDC has implemented special quarantine measures for those who are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to the virus. In Illinois, Governor JB Pritzker’s stay at home order has been extended until at least May 30.
The COVID-19 outbreak is a relatively new concern in the United States. The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in December and the first case of coronavirus in the United States was reported in January. As the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States surpasses one million, the spread of the virus continues to be a top concern for law enforcement agencies nationwide. And while there is no specific criminal charge for intentionally infecting others with COVID-19 or exposing them to the virus, there are several criminal charges that could be applied to this type of situation, including public endangerment or battery.
In Indiana, the Marion County prosecutor’s office reported in early April that it intends to “aggressively” prosecute people who test positive for coronavirus and deliberately infect others with the virus. “We’ve read about other jurisdictions where people have coughed or sneezed on other individuals,” said Prosecutor Ryan Mears. “I can tell you if that happens and we get information on that, we will absolutely criminally prosecute those charges.”
Some states have already begun charging people with criminal offenses related to the spread of COVID-19. In Texas, an 18-year-old woman was arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat, a third-degree felony, after allegedly claiming on social media that she was intentionally spreading the virus. In Illinois, a man exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 was charged with misdemeanor reckless conduct after ignoring medical advice to self-isolate.
In Florida, the State Attorney Office recently issued a “zero-tolerance policy” for coronavirus-related threats against first responders and law enforcement, stating that felony charges can be implemented in such cases. According to the policy, intentionally coughing can result in charges of aggravated assault on an officer and intentionally touching or spitting can be charged as aggravated battery against an officer.
Domestic Violence Rates on the Rise
With increasing concerns about the spread of coronavirus and mass efforts to slow the spread of the virus, people all over the country being asked to stay home to reduce the spread of COVID-19. And while these stay at home orders have resulted in fewer reports of criminal activity, there is one exception.
Domestic violence incidents are on the rise nationwide and domestic battery calls are up nearly 50% in some areas, due in large part to the coronavirus quarantine. The dramatic emotional and financial impact of COVID-19 on Americans as a whole has caused stress levels to skyrocket and, for households where abuse is present, this added strain can increase the risk of domestic violence.
Domestic Violence During COVID-19
Domestic violence can take on many different forms during the COVID-19 crisis, including withholding medical care or financial resources, deliberately causing an intimate partner to become infected with coronavirus, threatening to throw an intimate partner out of the house so they get sick, or using the virus as an excuse to prevent an intimate partner from keeping in contact with friends or loved ones. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has voiced concerns that abusive partners may be leveraging coronavirus to “further isolate, coerce, or increase fear in the relationship.”
Criminal Battery Related to COVID-19
Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are prepared to levy criminal charges against those who intentionally or recklessly spread or threaten to spread COVID-19 or those who purposefully intend to infect another person with the illness. As a result, plaintiff attorneys and defense attorneys alike expect an onslaught of criminal battery cases related to COVID-19, especially with the increased risk of domestic violence due to widespread stay at home orders.
Says Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears, “There’s an argument that [this type of act is] battery because you are touching another person if you’re sneezing and coughing with an intent to hurt that person. We would definitely push the limits of the law to keep people safe and hold people accountable. We’d be aggressive in charging those cases.”
Domestic Battery Arrest
If you have been accused of intentionally or recklessly spreading COVID-19 to another person by deliberately coughing or sneezing on that person, you could end up facing charges for criminal battery. If you have been accused of deliberately infecting an intimate partner with COVID-19, forcing your partner to leave your home because he or she is exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus, or denying your partner medical care for COVID-19, you could be charged with domestic battery.
Police can arrest a person for domestic battery for knowingly and intentionally inflicting pain or injury on any family or household member, for sexual assault, or for committing a physical act that causes the person to fear pain, injury or sexual assault. Under the law, a family or household member includes the following people:
- Current or former spouses
- Parents, children, stepchildren or other people related by blood or by current or previous marriage
- People who currently have or had in the past a dating or engagement relationship
- People who have or allegedly have a child in common
- People who share or allegedly share a blood relationship through a child
In Illinois, a first offense domestic battery is typically charged as a Class A misdemeanor. However, the crime can be charged as a Class 4 felony if the defendant has a prior conviction for domestic battery, if he or she has violated an order of protection for alleged domestic violence, or if other aggravating factors are present in the case.
Domestic Battery Conviction and Penalties
Depending on the circumstances of the alleged attack, the defendant could face multiple charges for domestic violence, battery, sexual assault, property damage and more. A conviction for domestic battery can have serious consequences, possibly including incarceration, hefty fines and a criminal record. As a Class A misdemeanor, the maximum penalty for domestic battery is up to one year in jail and $2,500 in fines. As a Class 4 felony, a domestic battery charge carries a sentence of one to three years in prison.
Are You Facing Criminal Charges for Spreading COVID-19?
The coronavirus pandemic has had a massive, lasting impact on people across the United States and all over the world. Schools, along with non-essential businesses, have been closed temporarily, and health and government officials are urging people to stay at home and practice social distancing to help “flatten the curve.”
In many cities and states across the country, quarantine, isolation and “shelter in place” orders have been implemented to protect the health and safety of their citizens and many people have lost their jobs and are now struggling with financial instability, uncertainty and a loss of control, which can increase the severity and frequency of domestic violence. If you are facing charges of criminal battery, domestic battery or domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic, it is important to seek legal help to determine your best course of action.