Transmitting an STD: Criminal Laws & Penalties
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.
HIV and Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases
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.
Intentional or Reckless
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.
- Jail or prison. A misdemeanor conviction for transmission of an STD can result in a sentence of up to one year in jail, while a felony conviction has a maximum penalty of a year or more in prison. Potential prison sentences for this crime differ significantly, and while some states impose a potential maximum sentence of up to one year in jail for the transmission of any STD, other states allow for as much as a life sentence in prison where a person knowingly transmits HIV.
- Fines. You can also be fined if you are convicted of either a felony or misdemeanor transmission of an STD crime. Misdemeanor fines are typically up to $1,000. Like jail sentences, however, state differences are extreme, with possible felony fines going as high as $50,000.
- Restitution. Restitution payments can also be made a part of transmission of an STD sentence. Restitution payments go towards any victims to compensate them for the losses they have incurred, and can differ widely among cases. Restitution must be paid in addition to any fines imposed by the court.
- Probation. In addition to, or instead of, a jail or prison sentence, courts can also sentence someone convicted of unlawful transmission of an STD to a probation term. Probation usually lasts one to three years, though longer terms are possible. Those on probation must comply with the court's probation conditions. These conditions can differ between cases, but commonly include regularly reporting to a probation officer, paying all required fines and restitution, submitting to random home searches, not breaking any more laws, and not leaving the jurisdiction without first obtaining permission from the probation officer or the court.
- Sex offender registration. Someone convicted of the criminal transmission of an STD will also have to sign up for the state's sex offender registry. Sex offender registration requirements differ by state, but someone on the sex offender registration list can remain there for 25 years or longer. Registrants have a difficult if not impossible time obtaining housing and work--in many ways, registration is the worst possible sentence.
State-by-State Laws on Transmitting an STD
Choose your state from the list below to find information about your states laws regarding transmitting an STD.
For more information, see the following.
- Can people who spread STDs be charged with attempted murder?
- Can people who practice safe sex be charged with transmission of an STD?
- Can people who spread STDs be locked up?
- I've been falsely charged with transmitting an STD
Find a Lawyer Near You
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.