Sexually transmitted diseases, sometimes known as venereal diseases, are diseases that are transferred between people primarily as a result of sexual contact. Some of these diseases can be treated or cured while others, such as human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, are not curable and can lead to death. Many, but not all, states have laws that criminalize the transmission of at least some types of STDs between people. These laws, and the penalties imposed by them, differ significantly among states.
To learn about the laws surrounding transmitting an STD in your state, jump ahead to the section on state by state laws for transmitting an STD.
Criminal transmission of an STD crimes commonly encompass different types of diseases. Though state laws differ, they typically include both HIV as well as other communicable or contagious sexually transmitted diseases. Some state laws list the individual diseases covered by name, while others use more general language that includes any type of communicable or sexually transmitted disease. Also, some states limit these crimes to the transmission of HIV, while others include HIV as one of the diseases covered by the law; yet others provide for additional penalties if the transmitted disease is HIV.
You can be convicted of the criminal transmission of an STD only if you cause someone else to be infected intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly. For example, if you have been diagnosed with an STD and later engage in sexual relations with someone else without telling that person you have the disease, you can be convicted of this crime if that person becomes infected. (A 2013 Georgia case dealt with this kind of scenario.) However, if you are unknowingly infected with an STD, you cannot be found guilty of this crime. In order to convict you, a prosecutor must be able to show that you knew you had the disease and you intentionally exposed someone else to danger. Alternately, a prosecutor can show that, while knowing you had the disease, you were indifferent to the risk of exposing someone else and engaged in contact that recklessly endangered the other person.
Many states have laws that allow for people with an STD to knowingly engage in sexual contact without fear of prosecution if they tell the other person about the presence of the disease. As long as the other person consents to the relationship, the person with the STD is not guilty of criminal transmission, even if the other person is eventually infected.
However, laws in other states do not allow for the informed consent exception, and it's possible to be convicted of criminal transmission of an STD in these states even when the other person knows of the presence of the disease and consents to the sexual contact. In practice, however, because prosecutors have discretion when choosing which cases to prosecute, they may choose not to bring charges in cases where adults knowingly consented to sexual relations.
If you are convicted of knowingly transmitting an STD, you face a number of potentially very serious criminal penalties. State laws categorize this crime as either a felony or misdemeanor offense, and the potential penalties differ significantly depending on the state where it occurs. Regardless of the state, all criminal sentences involve the same potential types of penalties.
Choose your state from the list below to find information about your states laws regarding transmitting an STD.
For more information, see the following.
The potential penalties you face for being convicted of transmitting an STD are very serious. Getting convicted of this crime and being forced to register as a sex offender will follow you for years and ruin your life. If you are faced with a criminal charge of transmitting a sexual disease to another person, you must find an experienced criminal defense attorney near you immediately. An attorney in your area will be able to evaluate your case in light of both the laws of your state and his or her experience with area criminal courts, police, and prosecutors.
You should never speak to investigators or make any decisions about your case until you have first spoken to a local attorney. Talking to an attorney is always your best option even if you believe you have not done anything wrong.