Transmitting an STD in Tennessee

In Tennessee, it is a crime to expose another to a sexually transmitted disease (STD; to hepatitis; or to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

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

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

In Tennessee, an STD is any disease that is transmitted primarily through sexual contact.

(Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-10-101.)

Examples of common STDs include herpes and chlamydia.

Exposing Another to a Sexually Transmitted Disease

In Tennessee, it is a crime for a person who has an STD to expose another person to the disease.

(Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-10-107.)

Although the law does not provide a list of prohibited activities, exposure usually occurs through sexual contact, particularly unprotected sexual contact, and needle sharing.

Exposing Another to HIV or Hepatitis

It is a felony in Tennessee for a person who knows that he or she is infected with HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C to:

  • engage in sexual contact with another
  • donate blood, semen, organs in a way that risks transmission, or
  • share needles.

Neither actual transmission of the disease nor actual contact with infected bodily fluids is required. All that is required is that the defendant places the victim at risk of contacting infected bodily fluids. For example, people who know that they are infected with HIV and commit sex crimes can be convicted of criminal exposure even if there is no evidence of semen on the victim’s body.

(Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-109; State v. Bonds, 189 S.W.3d 24 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2005).)

Acting knowingly

In order to be convicted of exposing another to HIV or hepatitis, the defendant must act knowingly. People act knowingly when they act deliberately or with an understanding of the nature of their acts or the consequences of their acts. For example, someone who engages in unprotected sexual contact with the goal of exposing a partner to HIV has acted intentionally. Someone who does not intend to expose another person to hepatitis, but nonetheless engages in needle sharing--knowing that needle sharing can result in disease transmission--has acted knowingly.

(Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-109.)

Quarantine

Under Tennessee’s laws, a person who knows that he or she has HIV and nonetheless exposes others may be quarantined or isolated by the department of health. If the person continues to pose a threat to the public, the department may isolate the person in a secure facility, such as a prison or a state hospital.

(Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-108.)

Increased Punishment for Sex Crimes

In Tennessee, judges have a certain amount of discretion in sentencing defendants. If the defendant is convicted of a sex crime (rape, child rape, or statutory rape) and knew or should have known that he or she had HIV at the time of the offense, the judge is authorized to treat this as an aggravating factor and impose a longer sentence than would otherwise be imposed.

(Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-114.)

Aggravated Prostitution

In Tennessee, a person commits the crime of aggravated prostitution if, knowing that he or she has HIV, the person:

  • engages in sex as a business,
  • has sex is a house of prostitution, or
  • loiters for the purpose of being hired to engage in sex.

Actual transmission of HIV is not required.

It appears that in Tennessee the crime of aggravated prostitution applies only to prostitutes, not “johns.”

(Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-516.)

Defenses

Usually, people who do not know that they are infected with an STD cannot be convicted of criminal exposure.

Generally, condom use is not a defense to criminal exposure.

It is a defense to exposing another to HIV or hepatitis if the victim:

  • knew of the defendant’s infection
  • knew that the behavior could result in transmission, and
  • consented to the behavior.

(Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-109.)

Punishment

Exposing another to an STD is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $50.

Exposing another to HIV and aggravated prostitution are Class C felonies, punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment a fine of up to $10,000.

Exposing another to hepatitis is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to eleven months, 29 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 and restitution (repayment of expenses occurred as a result of the crime) to the victim. The victim can also sue for expenses and loss of services.

Escaping from quarantine in a secure facility is a Class E felony, punishable by one to six years’ imprisonment a fine of up to $3,000.

(Tenn. Code Ann. § § 39-13-108, 39-13-109, 39-13-516, 40-35-111, 68-10-111.)

Sex Offender Registration

Convictions for aggravated prostitution or criminal exposure to HIV through sexual contact require that the defendant register as sex offender. Failing to register as a sex offender is a class E felony. The first offense is punishable by at least 90 days in jail and a fine of at least $350. The second offense is punishable by at least 180 days in jail and a fine of at least $600. Third and subsequent offenses are punishable by at least one year in jail and a fine of at least $1,000.

(Tenn. Code Ann. § § 40-39-202, 40-39-208.)

Getting Legal Advice and Representation

Being convicted of exposing another person to HIV/AIDS or another STD can result in a sentence to jail or prison, a fine, a criminal record, and even sex offender registration. If you are charged with criminal exposure or any other crime because you have an STD, you should contact a Tennessee criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

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