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Coronavirus and Terroristic Threats: When is Coughing a Crime?

As America battles the COVID-19 pandemic, we are confronting both logistical and legal issues that we never could have imagined. Recently, a Freehold man named George Falcone was arrested for terroristic threats after purposely coughing on a grocery store employee while claiming to be a carrier of the deadly virus, and now faces charges of making terroristic threats. When you see or hear the phrase terroristic threat, 9/11 or other such attacks are probably the first images that come to mind. But as a criminal charge it can encompass a vast number of words and actions, yes, including coughing, under the right circumstances. So what exactly is a terroristic threat in New Jersey, how can coughing be one, and what punishment can someone face if they are convicted?

What Is a Terroristic Threat?

New Jersey defines a terroristic threat as behavior or words that threaten violence against another person with the goal of intimidating them or causing evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or public transport.  To break it down, there are three basic elements to a terroristic threats charge:

  1. The person makes a threat
  2. The threat vows to commit a violent offense against another individual
  3. The threat includes the purpose of “terrorizing” someone, or the statement is made with wanton disregard for the reaction of the third party

Since 9/11, New Jersey law enforcement has taken violations of this infraction much more seriously, and can be charged as either a third or second-degree crime. An important thing to note is that while most charges are of the third degree, during a state emergency (such as the COVID-19 outbreak), prosecutors will seek second-degree charges and thus harsher possible punishment.

How are Terroristic Threats Punished?

As stated above, a terroristic threat can be charged as either a third or second-degree crime in New Jersey. Conviction of a third-degree terroristic threat carries a possible three to five year prison term and up to $75,000 in fines. But also as mentioned above, that charge may be upgraded to the second-degree during a county, state or national emergency. This carries a possible five to ten year prison term and up to $250,000 in fines. 

The Falcone case provides a good example of how seemingly non-violent actions can land someone in legal hot water. New Jersey has been a hotbed of the COVID-19 outbreak, with over 150,000 confirmed cases and nearly 10,000 dead in the state alone. Using the threat of purposely transmitting the virus, whether real or not, to traumatize others in an age of heightened fear is unacceptable. Mr. Falcone found this out the hard way. He is now facing a third-degree terrorism charge, a harassment charge, and an obstruction charge. If convicted of all, he could spend up to ten years in prison. New Jersey is not the only state to pursue charges against those who threaten COVID-19 transmission, either. A Texas woman was recently arrested for making threats under similar circumstances.

Contact An Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Criminal Charges In NJ Today

Were you arrested or charged with a crime in NJ? The consequences of a conviction could be severe, leaving you with a permanent criminal record and possibly even sending you to jail. That is why you need to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible about your case. The attorneys at Zegas Law have successfully represented clients in criminal matters throughout New Jersey. Call us at (973) 379-1999 or fill out the online contact form to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team. We have an office conveniently located at 60 Morris Turnpike, Summit, NJ 07901

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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