Can You Go to Jail for Giving Someone Herpes?
Last year, singer/songwriter Usher was formally accused of exposing three of his former sexual partners to a sexually-transmitted disease. His former partners file a lawsuit in California claiming that the singer failed to disclose that he had herpes before engaging in sexual activities with them.
The alleged sexual encounters all took place prior to 2012. In California, exposing another person to a sexually transmitted disease can be a criminal offense.
Transmitting an STD
The term sexually-transmitted disease (STD) refers to a range of venereal diseases, infections, and health issues that can be transmitted between partners during sexual activity. Some STDs, like syphilis and gonorrhea, can be cured with proper medical treatment. Others, like HIV and herpes, cannot be cured.
In California, it is against the law to willfully expose another person to any infectious or communicable disease that has “significant public health implications.” Certain incurable STDs, including herpes, HPV, and HIV, may qualify under this definition.
What does the state have to prove in order to convict you for willfully exposing another person to an STD like herpes or HPV? California Health and Safety Code 120290 outlines the requirements:
- You must know that you are afflicted with an STD.
- You act with the specific intent to transmit that disease to another person.
- You engage in conduct that poses a substantial risk of transferring the STD to the victim; and
- The victim becomes infected with the STD.
In other words: you must know that you have an STD and willfully engage in sexual activity with another person that is substantially likely to transmit the disease.
How Can You Defend Against Charges for Intentionally Transmitting an STD?
If you are charged with willfully transmitting an STD you have the right to defend yourself. There are two primary defenses that may be helpful: knowledge and intent.
Knowledge: You cannot be convicted of willfully transmitting an STD if you were not aware that you had a disease or infection. Some STDs can remain dormant and have few noticeable symptoms. Unless you submit to frequent STD testing, you may not know that you are afflicted.
Intent: California law states that a person can only be guilty of willfully transmitting a disease if they acted with the intent to infect another person and engaged in conduct that was substantially likely to infect them. If you warned your partner about your STD or took certain precautions to minimize the risk of transmission (such as using a condom or engaging activities that were less likely to cause an infection), you may avoid criminal charges.
Other defenses that may be helpful include:
- The STD does not have significant public health risks
- The partner knew about the disease and consented to risky behavior, and
- You were forced to engage in sexual activity against your will.
Consequences of Willfully Infecting Another Person With an STD
Willfully infecting another person with an STD is a misdemeanor offense in California.
- Jail Time: Penalties can range from a maximum of 90 days in jail to a maximum of six months in jail, depending on the seriousness of the situation.
- Fines: If convicted, you may also be required to pay criminal fines of up to $1,000.
- Probation: A judge may order you to serve a term of supervised release or probation after a finding of guilt.
If you knowingly or recklessly infect another person with an STD you may also be subject to civil consequences, as well.
Intentionally Transmitting HIV
California’s laws used to take a much stronger stance on the intentional transmission of HIV. The crime used to be a felony, punishable by 3-8 years in prison.
However, recent changes in the laws have significantly reduced the penalties that can be imposed. Exposing another person to HIV is now a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of one year in jail.
Fighting Criminal Charges in Los Angeles
Have you been accused of intentionally infecting another person with an incurable STD, such as herpes or HIV? Contact Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez for immediate legal assistance. A criminal conviction can change your life forever.
In addition to jail time and fines, you will also generate a criminal record. This record will show up whenever a background run is performed. Employers and landlords who see details of your past may be hesitant to approve any applications you submit.
As a former prosecutor, Ambrosio Rodriguez has an extremely in-depth and nuanced understanding of California’s criminal laws and procedures.