Denmark: Court Rules of Appeals Coughing on and Yelling “Corona” at Police Officer Constitutes Aggression Hazard
(Aug. 13, 2020) On June 2, 2020, the Western High Court (Vestre Landsret), a Danish appeals court, convicted a man of coughing and shouting “corona” at a police officer, finding that these acts together constituted a threat of aggression under the Danish Criminal Code. (Vestre Landsret, Case No. V.L. S-0831-20, U.2020.2985-2899, June 2, 2020; Straffeloven, § 119, stk. 1 (LBK nr 976 of 09/17/2019).)))

Threatening the police with physical abuse is a felony under Article 119 of the Danish Penal Code and is punishable by up to eight years in jail.

The Case History

A police officer in Aarhus pulled a car over for a regular traffic stop in March 2020. The defendant, a passenger in the vehicle, jumped out of the car and, apparently unprovoked, started coughing at the officer within one to two feet of the face of the officer and shouting “corona.” The defendant later argued in court that because he was intoxicated, he had done this.

The question before the court was whether shouting “corona” repeatedly and coughing together within one to two feet of the face of a police officer represented a criminal threat of violence under the Danish Criminal Code.

The First Instance Court

The lower court found that coughing at a police officer did not constitute violence against a police officer (even though the person coughing was contaminated with COVID-19) and thus acquitted the defendant.

Decision of the Appellate Court-

The appeal court held that deliberately infecting another person with COVID-19 complies with the concept of violence in the criminal code, reversing the lower court ‘s verdict with regard to the threat of violence, recognizing that such an infection may lead to hospitalization. The court found that the act of coughing alone does not constitute an act or threat of aggression, but that the defendant coughed repeatedly and intentionally within one to two feet of the police officer while shouting “corona.” It was immaterial to the issue of whether the actions counted as a threat of aggression that the defendant was not a carrier of the coronavirus.

The man was sentenced to imprisonment for three months, which also included imprisonment for leaving the scene to evade arrest for 30 days. Thus, trying to infect a police officer by coughing on the officer with coronavirus was priced at two months of imprisonment. Today, the same conduct could lead to stricter penalties and longer incarceration, since legislation expressly authorizing the doubling of sentences for crimes relating to COVID-19 came into effect in April following the acts committed in the present case. (LOV nr 349 af 02/04/2020) (Lov om ændring af straffeloven, retsplejeloven og udlændingeloven).)

The verdict can be appealed to the Danish Supreme Court, but an independent Appeals Authorization Board must first give the defendant leave to appeal. Such leave shall only be given where the situation is of general significance and exceptional circumstances are relevant. (§ 392 Retsplejeloven (LBK nr 938 of 09/10/2019).)