In Pennsylvania, people who know that they are infected with HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and engage in sexual conduct or bite or spit on people can be charged with reckless endangerment, aggravated assault, or even attempted murder.
For more information on the criminal transmission of STDs, see Transmitting an STD: Criminal Laws & Penalties.
Unlike many states, Pennsylvania does not have a specific law that criminalizes the transmission of STDs. Instead, prosecutors in Pennsylvania have used the state’s general criminal laws to prosecute people who know that they have hepatitis or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), and who intentionally expose others. There are also specific laws concerning prostitution and prisoners with HIV/AIDS or hepatitis.
Under Pennsylvania’s laws, a person commits the crime of reckless endangerment by engaging in conduct that places or may place another in danger of death or serious injury.
(18 Pa. Con. Stat. § 2705.)
For example, people who know that they are infected with HIV/AIDS and engage in unprotected sexual contact with others without disclosing their infection, or bite or throw infected bodily waste, have been convicted of reckless endangerment on the theory that they have potentially placed others in danger of serious bodily injury or death. One man in Pennsylvania was convicted of reckless endangerment after he engaged in unprotected oral sex without telling his partner that he was HIV positive.
(Commonwealth v. Cordoba, 902 A.2d 1280 (Pa. Super. 2006).)
A person who knows that he or she is infected with HIV/AIDS and intentionally exposes another person to the disease may also be charged with aggravated assault (inflicting or attempting to inflict great bodily injury on another). Serious bodily injury causes serious, permanent loss, impairment, or disfigurement; or creates a substantial risk of death.
(18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 2301, 2702.)
For example, a prisoner who knew that he had HIV and hepatitis was convicted of aggravated assault on the theory that he intentionally attempted to inflict great bodily injury when he threw infected feces at a guard’s face (despite the fact that there is almost no risk of infection from feces).
(Commonwealth v. Brown, 605 A.2d 429 (Pa. Super. 1992).)
For more information on assault in Pennsylvania, see Pennsylvania Assault and Battery Laws and Pennsylvania Aggravated Assault Laws.
TRANSMITTING DISEASES OTHER THAN HIV/AIDS
People who transmit other sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia, herpes, syphilis, or gonorrhea could conceivably be charged under Pennsylvania’s reckless endangerment or assault statutes. A person commits assault by inflicting (or attempting to inflict) bodily injury on another.
Prosecutors in Pennsylvania may conclude that defendants who know they have an STD and intentionally engage in conduct that results in infection or exposure have inflicted (or attempted to inflict) bodily injury or have placed others at risk of death or serious injury.
If a person knows that he or she is infected with HIV/AIDS (or another STD that could cause death) and exposes another (through, for example, unprotected sex or sexual assault) in order to intentionally infect the victim with the disease, the person could also conceivably be charged with attempted murder in Pennsylvania.
(18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§901, 2502.)
Assault by Prisoners
In Pennsylvania, prisoners who know that they are infected with HIV, hepatitis B, or any other contagious disease and who throw, spit, or otherwise cause another to come into contact with blood, seminal fluid, saliva, urine or feces are guilty of prisoner assault. The crime is punished more severely if the prisoner is sentenced to death or life imprisonment.
(18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 2703, 2704.)
For example, a prisoner who knows that he or she is infected with hepatitis B and spits on someone could be convicted of assault by a prisoner.
Under Pennsylvania’s laws, the crimes of prostitution (engaging in sexual activity as a business or loitering for the purpose of selling sex) and patronizing prostitution are punished more severely if the defendant knows that he or she is infected with HIV/AIDS.
(18 Pa. Con. Stat. §5902.)
Reckless endangerment is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000.
Aggravated assault is punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $25,000. Attempted murder is punishable by 20 to 40 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $50,000.
Prisoner assault is punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. If the prisoner is serving a sentence of death or life imprisonment, then prisoner assault is punishable by a life term and a fine of up to $50,000.
Prostitution with HIV/AIDS and patronizing prostitution with HIV/AIDS are punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000.
(18 Pa. Con. Stat. §§ 1101, 1102, 1103, 1104, 2702, 2703, 2704, 2705, 5902.)
Getting Legal Advice and Representation
In Pennsylvania, exposing another person to an STD can have serious consequences, including time in prison, as well as a fine and a serious criminal record. If you are charged with a crime because you are infected with HIV/AIDS or another STD, you should contact a criminal defense attorney. An attorney will be able to navigate the criminal justice system, make the best arguments on your behalf, and help you obtain the best outcome in your case.