The potential threat of weaponized COVID-19 transmission – such as deliberately coughing on other people to get them infected – has led New Jersey to be the first state to openly consider a law that will criminalize attempted COVID-19 transmission. Social justice advocates are concerned that such a law will disproportionately target minorities in their application.
The only similar laws in existence in the United States pertain to the criminalization of HIV transmission. Such laws were passed in 26 states. In some states, an individual with no HIV infection who attempted to bite another person could be charged with criminal intent to transmit HIV.
The laws criminalizing HIV transmission targeted minorities, according to the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy at UCLA School of Law. Among those voicing concern that COVID-19 criminalization laws could do the same is Brad Sears, associate dean of Public Interest Law at UCLA Law School.
Unlike HIV, those most affected by COVID-19 are the elderly. As the virus moves into poorer communities, however, Sears believes states could look for opportunities to create laws with high penalties.
In New Jersey, Republican Senator Kristin Corrado’s proposed bill to that effect could result in up to 10 years in prison or a $150,000 fine.