HIV and STD Criminal Laws
During the early years of the HIV epidemic, a number of states implemented HIV-specific criminal exposure laws. Some of these state laws criminalize behavior that cannot transmit HIV and apply regardless of actual transmission. As of 2018, 26 states had laws that criminalize HIV exposure.
The laws for the 50 states and the District of Columbia were assessed and categorized into five categories.
- HIV-specific criminal laws criminalize behaviors that can potentially expose another to HIV.
- STD/communicable/infectious disease criminal laws criminalize behaviors that can potentially expose another to STD/communicable/infectious diseases. This might include HIV.
- Sentence enhancement specific to HIV are laws that do not criminalize a behavior but increase the sentence length when a person commits certain crimes while infected with HIV.
- Sentence enhancement specific to STD are laws that do not criminalize a behavior but increase the sentence length when a person commits certain crimes while infected with an STD. This might include HIV.
- No HIV criminalization laws.
General criminal statutes, such as reckless endangerment and attempted murder, can be used to criminalize behaviors that can potentially expose another to HIV and or an STD.
Criminalization of potential HIV exposure is largely a matter of state law, with some Federal legislation addressing criminalization in discrete areas, such as blood donation and prostitution. These laws vary as to what behaviors are criminalized or what behaviors result in additional penalties.
In 19 states, laws require persons who are aware that they have HIV to disclose their status to sexual partners and 12 states require disclosure to needle-sharing partners. Several states criminalize one or more behaviors that pose a low or negligible risk for HIV.
In 19 states, laws require persons who are aware that they have HIV to disclose their status to sexual partners and 12 states require disclosure to needle-sharing partners. Several states criminalize one or more behaviors that pose a low or negligible risk for HIV transmission.
Some laws identified in the analysis account for HIV prevention measures that reduce transmission risk, such as condom use, and antiretroviral therapy (ART). These analyses may be used by states to assess their laws’ alignment with current evidence regarding HIV transmission risk.
The maximum sentence length for violating an HIV-specific statute is also a matter of state law. Some states have a maximum sentence length as high as up to life in prison, while others have maximum sentence lengths that are less than 10 years.
It should be noted that all states have general criminal laws—such as assault, battery, reckless endangerment, and attempted murder—that can and have been used to prosecute PWH for any of the above-mentioned behaviors. For example, Texas does not have laws that specifically criminalize HIV exposure but has used general criminal statutes, like aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, to criminalize defendants with HIV. See, Mathonican v. State, 194 S.W.3d 59, 67 (Tex. App. Texarkana 2006) finding that the seminal fluid of the HIV-positive defendant was a deadly weapon.
The information presented here does not constitute legal advice and does not represent the legal views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services, nor is it a comprehensive analysis of all legal provisions relevant to HIV. This information is subject to change and does not contain measures implemented by counties, cities, or other localities. Use of any provision herein should be contemplated only in conjunction with advice from legal counsel.
- Page last reviewed: November 30, 2018
- Page last updated: November 30, 2018
- Content source: Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention