February 16, 2017 By Stephen Klarich

imageCalifornia law makes it a crime to intentionally transmit or expose others to highly contagious and deadly diseases. California also has a law that specifically makes it a crime to intentionally transmit HIV, the virus known to cause AIDS.

Under Health and Safety Code Section 120291, you could be charged with a felony if you have unprotected sex with someone if you know you have HIV and do not tell your partner. However, that could be changing soon.

The Change in Attitude Toward HIV-Infected Persons (HSC 120291)

When laws criminalizing unprotected sex among those infected with HIV were passed, the HIV scare was at its peak. Anyone who acquired the virus was highly unlikely to survive, and medical science had yet to make the breakthroughs that have reduced the number of deaths from AIDS in recent years.

Moreover, HIV infection carried with it a social stigma related to how the disease could be acquired. It was predominately (and untruthfully) regarded as a disease of “high risk behavior,” one that only gay men and drug users who shared needles could get. In that social environment, calls for quarantining people with the virus were not uncommon, and unsurprisingly, laws such as HSC 120291 passed throughout the country.

Now, there are millions of HIV cases worldwide, affecting every demographic. Additionally, there have been significant advances in medical science and HIV can now be managed with careful treatment. Therefore, laws such as HSC 120291 have come to be viewed as legal relics that discriminate against individuals who are infected with the disease.

Reducing HIV Transmission to a Misdemeanor (SB 239)

With this information in mind, California State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) believes it is time to end the discrimination. He has introduced SB 239, which would repeal HSC 120291 and make the transmission of HIV or exposure of others to the disease a misdemeanor.1

Supporters point to studies showing a disproportionate impact of HIV disclosure laws on women and minority groups. A UCLA study shows that while white men represent 40 percent of HIV cases in California, only 16 percent of those men have faced criminal charges related to that status. Simultaneously, black women represent four percent of California’s HIV cases, but 21 percent of prosecutions under HIV transmission laws.2

People who are not aware that they have the disease can use that lack of knowledge as a defense to the criminal charge. Wiener and supporters of the bill argue that the criminal penalties for HIV transmission have therefore discouraged people from getting tested for the virus.

Opponents of the proposed law say that relaxing the penalties for HIV transmission would remove the burden to disclose that you are HIV positive to unwitting partners.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney at Wallin & Klarich Today

If you are facing criminal penalties for violating California HIV disclosure laws, you should contact an experienced sex crimes defense lawyer immediately. With over 35 years of experience successfully defending our clients facing sex crime charges, our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich are available to help you today.

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich sex crimes lawyer available to help you no matter where you are located.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.

1. Matt Bloom, “California senator moves to rewrite state’s HIV transmission laws,” Southern California Public Radio, February 7, 2017, available at http://www.scpr.org/news/2017/02/07/68856/ca-senator-moves-to-rewrite-state-s-hiv-transmissi/ href=”#ref1″>↩

2. Hasenbush, A. et al., HIV Criminalization In California: Penal Implications for People Living with HIV/AIDS, The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, December 2015. Study available at http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/HIV-Criminalization-California-Updated-June-2016.pdf href=”#ref2″>↩

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