It’s disgusting, unhygienic, and times of a global pandemic (which happens like, every couple of years now it seems), can be scary and dangerous. But is spitting on someone a crime?
Well, for North Carolina, yes: spitting is a crime.
But it’s not just in the Tar Heel State; 10 other states across the country criminalize spitting on someone. Or, rather, these states have laws that criminalize the spread of diseases via spitting. In fact, five states, namely Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri and Washington, allow courts to level a maximum 20 years in prison to anyone caught hawking a loogie at someone. Of all the states, however, it’s North Carolina that probably has spitting on someone as a crime enshrined into their state laws.
Let’s talk about spit. Unfortunately, in the discussion of law, certain terms should (and need) to be clarified, not only to avoid setting precedent over a malapropos, but also to provide a clear-cut legal definition of what constitutes a ‘spit’ (gross, I know).
First and foremost, and basing it on ‘reputable’ sources like Urban Dictionary (not to mention common parlance), the accepted spelling is ‘loogie’, and not ‘lugie’, as some people use it. Interestingly, according to the UD, loogie is a portmanteau of ‘lung cookie’, although this isn’t exactly widely accepted by linguists (who probably have better things to do, anyway). Of course, I’m sure trial lawyers will argue this to the wazoo, so it’s best to lay down a baseline definition to work with (even if Urban Dictionary is far from an academic source!).
Secondly, and most importantly, the Sixth Circuit of North Carolina referred to it as ‘loogie’, and defined it via its common understanding of a bodily fluid combining spit and mucus and expelled through the mouth in a forceful manner. However, some judges do consider the term ‘spitting’ more broadly, meaning that the presence, or absence, of mucus is immaterial in hearings that involve spitting. However, considering how long a trial lasts, I’m sure this would also be discussed at length, much to the chagrin of everyone involved in the case.
Of the 11 states that criminalize spitting, one thing is common: a person arrested for spitting is also given the offense of aggravated assault.
Is Spitting on Someone Illegal? Yes, and it’s Assault.
At least, in North Carolina. In North Carolina, assault isn’t defined by statute; rather, North Carolina defines assault via the common law understanding of assault, which is an act that attempts to injure another person, and or attempt to injure someone in the hopes of putting their intended victim in fear of harm (See, e.g., State v. Mitchell, 358 N.C. 63 (2004), which defines assault as “an overt act or an attempt, or the unequivocal appearance of an attempt, with force and violence, to do some immediate physical injury to the person of another, which show of force or menace of violence must be sufficient to put a person of reasonable firmness in fear of immediate bodily harm”).
In this context, spitting is not assault in the sense that it does not attempt to injure, nor does the act of spitting on someone create a reasonable fear of bodily harm. In my opinion, spitting on someone is more akin to battery, which is any act of unconsented touching of another person. However, some cases would consider any battery as assaul, as is the case in Jessica Smith’s law book, North Carolina Crimes 113 (7th ed. 2012).
It’s also worth considering that, under G.S. 14-258.4, or, the malicious conduct by prisoner, it’s a felony for prisoners to direct bodily fluids or excrement at government employees. Of course, one could argue that this statute does not, in a sense, constitute statute assault, especially since G.S. 14-258.4 applies only under limited circumstances.
So is spitting on someone a crime? Yes. Is it assault? In the broad sense, probably not, since, normally, spitting on someone doesn’t cause anyone a reasonable fear of bodily harm.
Normally. However, these are abnormal times, and with the recent global pandemic that’s been threatening our country, one could potentially argue that spitting as assault does create reasonable fear of bodily harm, especially if it involves a person who is suspected of carrying an extremely contagious disease.
Bottom Line: Spitting on Someone is a Crime.
In my honest opinion, I believe that spitting on someone should be officially criminalized, and it should carry the charge of aggravated assault and battery, on top of considering it a crime against public decency and order. Hey, Singapore has anti-spitting ordinances that have helped them keep their city-state clean and hygienic, two extremely important factors to consider when facing a pandemic like we are now. We can even go as far as making it something that you can’t bail yourself out of jail for. In my opinion, spitting on someone in this day and age isn’t just criminal assault, it’s attempted murder (ok, that might be too far, but consider the current pandemic’s infection/death rates, and you’ll see where I’m coming from).
Of course, we’d have to create legal definitions for ‘spit’, ‘spitting’, and whether or not it causes reasonable fear of bodily harm outside of a pandemic, but that should only cover the idea of spitting as assault, it shouldn’t exclude spitting as a form of battery, and as a form of a crime against public decency and order.
At the end of the day, spitting on someone is disgusting, and it’s dangerous. Don’t do it.