Intentionally exposing another person to an infectious disease is a crime in California. You could be sentenced to jail when found guilty of intentionally spreading disease and have to pay fines for the offense. In this article, we will guide you through everything you need to know about the offense and what you can do to fight the charges against you. Get in touch with us at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney to discuss your case further and know how we can help defend you.

Legal Definition of Deliberate Exposure to Communicable Infections

It is a crime under HS 120290 to willfully transmit infectious diseases. The offense includes the following elements:

  • You knew that you had an infectious communicable disease
  • You acted intending to transmit that disease to someone else
  • You acted in a manner creating a substantial risk of spreading the infection to someone else
  • You transmitted that disease to another person

Under this statute, a communicable or infectious disease is any condition that directly or indirectly spreads from one person to another and creates significant threats to public health. Bacteria, protozoa, fungi, or viruses can cause communicable diseases.

The common communicable diseases that could lead to charges under HS 120290 are HIV, AIDS, Chlamydia, herpes, and gonorrhea.

To be convicted of the offense, the prosecution must prove that you were aware you were suffering from an infectious disease. For instance, you already had an HIV diagnosis.

When you engage in an activity that increases the risk of transmitting that disease to another person, you are guilty of violating HS 120290. For instance, having unprotected sex when you know you have a sexually transmitted disease. Sharing needles is another activity that poses the risk of infecting another person with a communicable disease.

Acting willfully means ignoring any precautions that reduce the risk of transmitting a disease to another person. The court often assesses your willfulness based on what a reasonable person under similar circumstances would do.

For instance, if you know that you are HIV positive, a reasonable person knows that engaging in unprotected sex creates the risk of transmission. Therefore, a reasonable person would not deliberately have unprotected sex.

Some of the actions that can be prosecuted as the deliberate transmission of a communicable disease include:

  • Intentionally having unprotected sex with as many people as possible to infect them with HIV or another sexually transmitted infection
  • Getting another person who is suffering from an infectious disease to transmit it to another person
  • Sharing needles used in drug injections when you know that you have a communicable illness that can be spread that way

Note: While the law focuses primarily on sexually transmitted infections, you can be convicted for intentionally spreading an infectious disease. In some cases, your behavior could also lead to additional charges, such as terrorist threats or harassment, when you intentionally harass other people with the threat of spreading a communicable disease.

Legal Defenses for

Before the court establishes your guilt or innocence, the prosecution must prove that the offense has all the elements proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This high standard allows your defense attorney to fight the charges against you. Here are the common defenses when facing charges for intentionally transmitting an infectious disease.

You took measures to prevent transmission

You are not guilty of intentionally exposing another person to a communicable disease if you take the necessary measures to prevent transmission. For instance, using a condom to prevent the transmission of a communicable disease.

The measures you take to prevent transmission must have scientific backing to demonstrate their effectiveness.

You were unaware of having an infectious disease

You are not guilty of transmitting an infectious disease if you are not aware that you have the disease. For instance, if you had no symptoms yet of the disease and subsequently transmitted it to another person, the court will not find you guilty of the offense.

However, if you had symptoms of the disease and failed to get medical attention, you could still be found guilty of deliberate exposure to communicable infections.

The other person did not catch the communicable infection

Deliberate exposure to communicable infections becomes a crime when a person intentionally exposes another person to an STD or STI, and that person catches the infection. It is common for people to have unprotected sex with infected partners and not catch a disease. Therefore, you cannot be convicted for the offense if no transmission occurred.

There was a low risk of transmission

For STDs such as HIV, a person with a low viral load has a low risk of transmitting the infection. This, coupled with taking the necessary preventative measures, means there's a low risk of transmission.

Prosecution of people with a low chance of transmitting HIV is one of the reasons behind the repealing of the law that made it a felony to have unprotected sex with another person when you were aware of your HIV status.

You did not intend to transmit the infection

Deliberate exposure to communicable infections is an intentional crime. The prosecution must prove that you acted intending to spread the disease to another person.

People who intentionally transmit disease to others do it for malice, hatred, or revenge against people they believe wronged them. For instance, intentionally withholding information about your HIV status to sexual partners to infect them.

However, if you did not act intentionally, you cannot be found guilty of violating HS 120290. For instance, if you inject yourself with a needle and dispose of it correctly, and another person takes it and uses it, you are not guilty of intentionally transmitting an infection.

Showing the prosecution that you took the necessary steps that have been scientifically demonstrated to prevent or reduce the chances of transmission is evidence of your lack of intent to spread the disease.

Other cases where you may not have acted intentionally include involuntary intoxication or sexual assault, or abuse by another person.

False Accusations

You could be falsely accused of infecting another person with a communicable disease, even if you were not responsible. For instance, if someone with multiple partners catches a communicable disease, they could accuse another person who also tested positive for the disease of intentionally passing it on.

When facing such false accusations, you may need the help of an expert to provide evidence of why you may not be a likely source of the disease. Such cases may also involve mandatory testing for all the partners involved.

In such cases, the doctors may determine the window of infection by determining what stage of the disease you’re at. Most infections have an incubation period, which can help healthcare professionals point to the likely timeline when you contracted a disease.

False accusations could also come from another person's malicious intent when they are the one who intentionally exposed you to an infection. Contact your attorney to start preparing a defense strategy if you are facing such allegations.

Penalties for Deliberate Exposure to Communicable Infections

After presenting your legal defense, there are several possible outcomes:

  • Your charges are dropped
  • The court finds you guilty

If found guilty, you will receive a jail sentence of up to six months and pay a fine of up to $1000. Fortunately, the state repealed the rule that punished the intentional transmission of HIV from a felony to a misdemeanor offense.

This means that a conviction no longer affects your firearm rights or status as a legal alien.

In addition to these criminal consequences, victims can sue you in civil court for any damages they suffered due to the infection. These civil cases are common when the victim has contracted HIV or herpes.

The Criminal Process for HIV Exposure in California

An investigation for deliberate exposure to communicable diseases begins with a report to the police about the alleged offense. This report can be made by the victim or someone close to the victim.

During the criminal process, the court may subpoena your medical records. However, these records are still protected. For instance, the prosecution must use a pseudonym unless it’s an in-camera proceeding.

 In addition to your medical records, the prosecution can call upon a person with knowledge relevant to your case. For instance, the court may subpoena a doctor for testimony that A healthcare professional advised you against engaging in sexual activity due to a communicable infection.

However, the prosecution cannot use your medical records as proof of your intent to deliberately expose another person to a communicable disease. Intent can only be established from your actions, for instance, engaging in sexual activity without taking any preventative measures.

Most reports of deliberate exposure to communicable diseases do not result in charges, especially if the prosecution does not have enough evidence to prove that a crime occurred. 

If the prosecution reviews the case and determines that you are guilty, they will file charges against you. Once charges are filed, you will be arrested, and criminal proceedings will begin.

The prosecution and defense will go into the discovery phase of the criminal trial process. they will exchange the evidence for and against the case. This stage also involves collecting witness statements and filing motions to include or exclude certain evidence from the case.

Here, the prosecution and defense also weigh the strength of their case. They will negotiate the dismissal of these charges or alternative punishment routes. In some cases, you may also enter a plea bargain where you plead guilty to the charges instead of proceeding to trial.

Most people agree to a plea bargain to avoid the time and monetary costs of going to trial. Trials are also more uncertain for both the prosecution and defense. Thus most prefer to settle beforehand.

When a case proceeds to trial, it will be heard before a jury. If the jury determines that you are guilty of deliberately exposing someone to a communicable disease, they will impose the sentence required by law.

The law requires that the court assess defendants for their suitability to be placed in a community program that offers counseling, education, and supervision.

Why Work with an Attorney

Facing a criminal trial alone is a daring feat and one almost guaranteed to fail. The law regarding the deliberate transmission of communicable diseases is complicated. It also engages other laws, such as the privacy requirement for medical records.

Even an open and shut case will have elements you may not understand or know how to deal with. That is why you should work with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Your attorney will first discuss the details of your case, your expectations, and, where necessary, the events leading up to the alleged crime. After you hire an attorney, they will begin collecting evidence to support your case.

They can look at the case from a perspective you could not have considered. They may also help secure evidence before it is lost. For example, if you had communication with the victim before, they will record it and store it.

Most cases often do not go to trial due to the engagement of the prosecution and defense outside the court. However, if you are working alone, you might not know what to do or how to negotiate during the pretrial stage, thus exposing you to the possibility of a conviction, even with weak evidence.

Where the case proceeds to trial, your attorney will fight for you in court with their skill and experience in a courtroom. Such insights are important instead of going through the learning curve when dealing with the burden of a criminal charge.

Although an attorney is an important asset in a criminal trial, the choice of an attorney matters as well. Choose an experienced attorney who understands California criminal laws and is familiar with the local courts. That way, you are positive the attorney brings a wealth of experience to the court.

Some people fail to hire attorneys due to financial strain. If this is your case, request a public defender, and one will be provided to represent you.

Related Offenses

Deliberately exposing a person to a communicable disease could result in additional or alternative charges for:

  1. Donating HIV-Infected Blood – HS 1621.5

HS 1621.5(a) makes it a crime to medically donate tissue or blood when you are HIV positive. The offense is a crime due to the likely danger of exposing patients to HIV-positive tissues. The elements of the offense include:

  • You donated blood, organs, or tissue to a blood bank, semen to a semen bank for artificial insemination, or breast milk to a medical center that distributes
  • You were a paid or unpaid volunteer donor
  • When you donated these fluids, tissue, or organs, you knew that you had tested positive for HIV or AIDS and failed to disclose the infection
  • When you acted, you had the mental capacity to understand your actions and the natural and possible consequences of donating HIV/AIDS-infected tissues, organs, semen, or breast milk.

Donating HIV-infected blood, tissue, semen, or breast milk is a felony. The penalties include a prison sentence of two, four, or six years and up to $10,000 in fines.

  1. Sexual Battery

It may be considered sexual battery if you intentionally infect someone with an STD. Sexual battery under California law refers to touching a person's intimate parts without consent for sexual gratification, arousal, or abuse.

Sexual battery is either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of the case. Misdemeanor sexual battery carries a jail sentence of six months to a year and fines of $2000-$3000, depending on your relationship with the victim.

Felony sexual battery results in a prison sentence of two to four years and $10,000 in fines. A sexual battery conviction also comes with the requirement to register as a sex offender. You could also be sued in civil courts for damages resulting from the alleged offense.

  1. Soliciting Prostitution

PC 647 (b) makes it a crime for anyone to engage in, solicit, or agree to engage in prostitution. California defines prostitution as willfully engaging in a sexual or lewd act with another person in exchange for money or compensation.

People who solicit prostitution intending to spread an STD to their victim could be charged for deliberate exposure to a communicable disease.

Soliciting prostitution is a misdemeanor for the first-time offender. The sentence includes up to six months in jail and up to $1000 as fines.

The second offense carries a minimum jail term of 45 days, while a third offense carries a sentence of at least 90 days.

  1. Supervising Prostitution

Pimps who direct, recruit, supervise, or aid a prostitute knowing that they have an STD are guilty of violating PC 653.23 and HS 120290. Under PC 653.23 (a), it is a crime to direct, aid, recruit, or supervise another person committing prostitution and receive a portion or all of the earnings from the activity.

The offense is a misdemeanor with a jail sentence of up to six months.

  1. Sentence Enhancement

People with HIV can have their sentences enhanced by three years if they commit other sexual crimes like rape, statutory rape, spousal rape, sodomy, or sexual acts involving a minor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the frequently asked questions relating to deliberate exposure to communicable diseases.

  1. Am I legally obligated to disclose my HIV status?

California Senate Bill 239 repealed the previous law that made it a crime not to disclose your HIV status and have unprotected sex. You do not have to tell your partner about your HIV status.

However, this does not protect you from civil liability. Anyone you infect with HIV could still sue you in civil court for damages that arise due to your failure to disclose your HIV status. It is also a crime to intentionally expose another person to HIV under HS 120290.

If the criminal court successfully convicts you for deliberate exposure to a communicable disease, your conviction can be used against you in civil court.

  1. Can someone sue you for giving them herpes?

Willfully exposing someone to herpes or another STD is a crime in California, even if you and consensual sex with that person. The victim can also sue you in civil court for any damages they suffer if you willfully expose them to an STD.

  1. Can someone sue you for infecting them with an STD if you didn't know you had it?

Knowledge is one of the elements the prosecution must prove before prosecuting you for deliberately exposing another person to a communicable disease. However, if you were not aware that you had an STD, you could not have acted intentionally to spread the disease.

However, there's an exception to this rule. If you had the symptoms of being sick but failed to seek medical attention, then you could be guilty of the offense.

For instance, if you are sexually active with multiple partners and develop lesions in your private parts, a reasonable person will take that as a sign to visit the doctor. However, if you ignore these symptoms and continue to be sexually active, you could be held responsible for any transmission that occurs.

  1. Can you be charged with deliberate exposure to an STD if the sex was consensual?

Consensual sex is not an important element in prosecuting offenders under HS 120290. Instead, the statute is concerned with the intention behind exposing another person to a communicable disease.

You can also be charged with violating HS 120290 for intentionally exposing your spouse to HIV, Chlamydia, gonorrhea, or herpes.

However, suppose you transmitted an STD to a person in a non-consensual sexual encounter. In that case, you are likely to face additional sentencing for the crime in addition to the underlying offense, such as rape.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Although the legal landscape relating to HIV and STD transmission has changed significantly in the last few years, you can still be charged for intentionally exposing another person to an STD. When this happens, contact an attorney to begin preparing your defense. Your attorney will answer all your questions relating to the case to help you prepare for the case and understand what is happening. Los Angeles Criminal Attorney helps you prepare a solid defense whenever you are facing criminal charges in Los Angeles. Start by booking a free consultation at 424-333-0943 to discuss your case and the way forward.