Transmitting an STD in Washington

In Washington, people who know that they are infected with HIV or another sexually transmitted disease (STD) can be convicted of a crime if they expose others to the disease.

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

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Washington has several laws that concern transmission of an STD:

  • one law applies to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)
  • another law applies to all other STDs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, human papilloma virus (HPV) and syphilis, and
  • a third law applies to all contagious diseases, including STDs.

Each of these laws is explained below.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 70.24.017.)

Criminal Exposure to HIV – Felony Assault

In Washington, a person commits that crime of first degree assault if he or she intentionally (deliberately) exposes another to or transmits HIV.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9A.36.011.)

For more information on assault in Washington, see Washington Assault & Battery Laws and Washington Aggravated Assault Laws.

For example, a man who knew that he was infected with HIV was convicted of multiple counts of felony assault for exposing his partners to HIV via unprotected sexual intercourse. He was sentenced to 178 years in prison.

(State v. Whitfield, 134 P.3d 1203 (Wash. Ct. App. 2006).)

Exposure can result from sexual contact, particularly unprotected sexual contact, or needle sharing. In other states, people have been charged with criminal exposure after they bit or spat on others, even though the risk of HIV transmission is very slight.

Exposing Another to an STD

It is a crime if a person knows that he or she has an STD other than HIV and has sexual intercourse with another person without telling the partner of the infection.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 70.24.140.)

Sexual intercourse is not defined in the statute, but the definition of “sexual intercourse” used elsewhere in Washington’s laws includes oral and anal sex.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9A.44.010.)

Exposing Another to a Contagious Disease

It is also a crime for a person who knows that he or she is infected with any contagious disease, including an STD, to expose others to the disease without telling them of the infection.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 70.54.050.)

For example, a person who knows that he or she has hepatitis and shares needles with another person could be convicted of exposing another to a contagious disease.

Increased Punishment for Sex Crimes

In Washington, courts have some discretion in deciding a defendant’s sentence. If people who know that they have HIV (or other STDs) commit sex crimes, the court can consider this as an aggravating factor and impose a longer prison term.

(In re Farmer, 835 P.2d 219 (Wash. 1992) (per curiam).)

Defenses

It is a defense to the charge of exposing another to an STD or a contagious disease that the defendant informed the other person of the infection.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 70.24.140, 70.54.050.)

Generally, using condoms (or other prophylactics) is not a defense to criminal exposure charges.

Punishment

First degree assault is a Class A felony, punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of up to $50,000.

Exposing another to an STD through sexual intercourse is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

Exposing another to a contagious disease is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 9A.20.021, 9A.36.011, 70.24.080, 70.54.050.)

Getting Legal Advice and Representation

A conviction for exposing another to HIV can result in life in prison. A conviction for exposing another to any other STD can result in time in jail, a fine, and a criminal record. If you are charged with exposing another person to an STD, you should contact a Washington criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you understand the legal process and advocate on your behalf so that you can achieve the best possible outcome in your case.

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