Transmitting an STD in New Jersey

The basics of New Jersey's STD transmission and notification laws.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated September 11, 2023

New Jersey repealed its STD-criminal-transmission law in 2022. This law made it a felony to have sex with another person when infected with a venereal disease. While this STD-specific law was repealed, it's still possible to be prosecuted for transmitting HIV or other STDs under New Jersey's reckless endangerment laws. Other criminal charges might also be possible depending on the circumstances.

What Is a Sexually Transmitted Disease or Infection (STD or STI)?

In New Jersey, STDs fall under its definition of "infectious or communicable diseases," which include non-airborne diseases spread from person to person that can be fatal or have long-term disabling consequences if not treated. Some of the STDs listed on the state's Department of Health website include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:4-7.2, 26:4-27 (2023).)

New Jersey Laws on Criminal Transmission of STDs

While New Jersey no longer has an HIV- or STD-criminal-transmission law, prosecutors can charge similar conduct under the state's reckless endangerment and assault laws.

Reckless Endangerment: Risk of STD Transmission

New Jersey's reckless endangerment law makes it a crime to recklessly engage in conduct that could result in bodily harm to another. Transmitting the disease is not required under this language—it's the risk that counts. A person acts recklessly by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk.

A person who knows, or should know, of their infected status could face criminal charges for reckless endangerment. A prosecutor would need to prove the defendant acted recklessly by engaging in sexual activities that risked exposing another to the infection. For instance, reckless conduct might include not informing a partner of their infectious status before engaging in sexual activities or not taking measures to prevent the spread of the disease (such as testing or using condoms or other prophylactics).

A person commits a disorderly persons offense by acting recklessly and creating a substantial risk of bodily injury (STD transmission) to the victim.

Assault Crimes: Knowingly or Recklessly Transmitting an STD

Prosecutors could also potentially charge a defendant with assault. A person commits assault by purposely, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another. Under this definition, it could be argued that a person who knowingly transmits an STD to a sexual partner has caused them bodily injury. Simple assault is a disorderly persons offense. Transmitting a disease that causes serious bodily injury to another, however, carries penalties for a crime of the second degree.

(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:12-1, 2C:24-7.1 (2023).)

Possible Defenses to HIV and STD Transmission Charges in New Jersey

Several defenses or defense strategies may be available to a defendant facing reckless endangerment or assault charges related to STD transmission or exposure.

It wasn't me. One defense strategy is that the prosecution has the wrong person and the transmission did not occur based on the defendant's sexual activities with the victim.

Lack of knowledge. Charges for reckless endangerment and assault require that the defendant knowingly or recklessly exposes or causes harm to another. A defendant who wasn't aware of their infected status might be able to poke holes in the prosecution's case, as long as their ignorance was legitimate. This strategy won't work if the defendant could have known and just refused to get tested.

Consent. Another possible way to poke holes in the prosecution's case would be to show that the partner consented to sexual activities after being fully informed of the risks.

New Jersey Laws on HIV and STD Notification to Partners

New Jersey law does not require a person to notify any sexual or needle-sharing partners of their HIV or STD status. However, a person can receive help with partner notification through the state's STD program number (609-826-4869). Also, if a person is diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, a health care professional may prescribe medication for the person's recent sexual partners (called expedited partner therapy) without seeing the partner.

For STD testing locations and HIV prevention sites, check out the list provided on the Department of Health website.

(N.J. Stat. § 26:4-48.2 (2023).)

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