According to this article, the DOJ may charge individuals who attempt to spread COVID-19 with terroristic acts/threats. Suppose that an individual, say Bob, is being assaulted or otherwise a crime is being committed against an individual for which it is generally appropriate to use self defense in response. Call the criminal Joe. Suppose this occurs in one of the fifty states of the United States (if your answer is state specific please note it in your answer).

Suppose that Bob coughs on Joe in an act of self defense and generally attempts to defend himself by spreading his illness. Suppose that an objective lay person and Bob himself believes that Bob is infected with SARS-COV-2 (causing the disease of COVID-19). Also, an objective lay person and Bob would feel that Joe’s actions if not stopped would cause imminent harm to Bob, but would not result in death.

Suppose further that Bob believes that his acts of coughing would act as a deterrent to reduce the chance of Joe assaulting/attacking Bob.

Is this a legally permissible act for Bob to do? Is there any crime Bob is committing?

  • I think that there should be some historical precendent on threats using an otherwise less-than-lethal object (e.g. a syringe) with a claim that it's infected with HIV - I believe that I have seen such cases both in actual news and fictional media, but I don't have a good example at hand.
    – Peteris
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 17:59

1 Answer 1


This isn’t self defence

Self defence involves reasonable steps to end an imminent threat. How does causing the assaulter to die in 2 weeks of Covid deal with the imminent threat?

  • 1
    It could act as a deterrent to get the assailant to cease their attack. Updated question to make that clear.
    – Viktor
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 5:21
  • Reasonable steps. A threat is only a threat until actually acted on, and that threat is clearly not a deterrent if it has no effect.
    – user4657
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 5:31

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