Can people who spread STDs be charged with attempted murder?

Question

If people who are HIV positive have sex without telling their partners of their status, can they be charged with attempted murder?

Answer

It is possible to be charged with attempted murder if you know that you have the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV, the virus that causes AIDS), but engage in unprotected sex without telling your partner.

For example, in Oregon, a man who knew that he was infected with HIV was convicted of multiple counts of attempted murder after he failed to tell several women of his HIV status and had unprotected sex with each of them.

(State v. Hinkhouse, 912 P.2d 921 (Or. App. 1996).)

Attempted Murder

While laws vary from state to state, a person usually commits the crime of attempted murder by intentionally attempting to cause the death of another.

People act intentionally when they act with a particular purpose or design. Under general principles of criminal law, any substantial step towards a crime can be an attempt.

In order to convict a person of attempted murder for failing to tell a sex partner about an HIV infection, the prosecutor must show that the defendant:

  • knew he or she had HIV
  • knew that HIV could be spread through unprotected sex
  • engaged in unprotected sex, and
  • intended to infect others with HIV and ultimately cause their deaths.

Attempted murder prosecutions based on HIV exposure are rare. Usually, prosecutions are brought against people who make comments about wanting to give other people HIV or “take as many people with me as possible,” people who engage in promiscuous sex or prostitution despite being aware of the risk of HIV transmission, and people who have unprotected sex with teenagers.

For example, a HIV positive man in Florida was charged with attempted murder after he had unprotected sex with a fifteen-year-old boy.

Criminal Transmission

It can be difficult to prove that a defendant wanted to infect others with HIV and cause their deaths. For this reason, many states have passed laws making it a crime for people who know that they have HIV (or another sexually transmitted disease) to expose others to the disease. Under criminal transmission statutes, the prosecutor does not need to establish intent to kill. It is enough to show that the defendant intentionally engaged in behavior that could result in infecting others.

For more information on the criminal transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, see Transmitting an STD: Criminal Laws & Penalties.

Punishment

Most states impose severe penalties for attempted murder. It is usually punishable by a lengthy prison term, sometimes life imprisonment, and a hefty fine in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Getting Legal Advice and Representation

An attempted murder conviction can have extremely serious consequences, possibly including a sentence of life in prison. If you are charged with attempted murder, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney immediately. An attorney will be able to tell you how your case is likely to be treated in court, depending on the facts and the assigned judge and prosecutor. With the help of an attorney, you can successfully navigate the criminal justice system and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

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