If Someone Coughs on Me Can I Punch Them?
There have been numerous reports of people maliciously coughing on others. Often, they do it when asked to wear masks, or to socially distance from others.
We know coughing on others is a crime. In some cases, it’s even been prosecuted as terrorism, because Covid-19 is a biological agent. In other cases it’s been charged as things like “making a terroristic threat,” or “harassment.” in some cases, people who have spit or coughed on others have been charged with assault.
Judges often compel the perpetrators to take Covid-19 tests to confirm whether victims need to be concerned, and victims often self-isolate. In many cases the threats turn out to be empty ones, if disturbing ones.
Yet as these cases continue to appear some are wondering whether they’re within their rights to practice self defense in the event that someone coughs on them, or seems like they’re going to cough on them.
To understand where the law stands here, you have to understand New York’s justification laws.
New York does give you the right to defend yourself if you believe you must use physical force to defend yourself from an attack. But the response has to be objectively reasonable and proportional to the situation. New York also has “duty to retreat” laws, which means you have a duty to get away from attackers any time you can do so safely.
If you punch someone in the face in response to being coughed on there’s a good chance you’ll be charged with assault and that the justification defense will not work for you. The courts are likely to say that you had a duty to scramble out of the way, or to step back.
In addition, punching someone who coughs on you has the disadvantage of putting you even more in contact with that person and their germs, which is the opposite of what you want to do.
It may be nice to fantasize about giving someone who acts this way their just desserts. You’re just better off keeping your temper and letting the legal system handle it. Going to jail right along with the perpetrator isn’t going to keep you from getting the virus. Given jails are breeding grounds for it, responding in anger is more likely to get you sick.
Stay safe out there, and remember, if you do get into trouble because you let your fist fly then you should exercise your right to remain silent and call a criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible.