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San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer Discusses California STD Laws

Public health is a hot-button topic these days. The threat of getting sick from communicable disease is ever-present. As a result, governmental authorities have launched numerous measures to stop the spread of disease.

Efforts to stop the spread of infectious diseases are nothing new in California. For years, California has enforced laws that criminalize intentionally infecting another person with a sexually transmitted disease.

California STD laws have serious penalties that could significantly alter a person’s life. Therefore, you need a strong legal advocate who is committed to seeking justice help if you face prosecution under the California willful exposure law.

What Is the California STD Law?

The California willful exposure law is part of the Health and Safety Code. The law states that a person who intentionally transmits an infectious or communicable disease to another has committed a crime.

The crime applies to the infected individual as well as involved third parties. For example, a pimp could face these charges if they knew a prostitute had an STD but continued to derive a profit from the prostitute.

The prosecution must prove the intent of the defendant focused on transmitting the STD. Under the California wilful transmission law, the prosecution must prove that:

  1. The accused knew that they have an STD or that a third party has an STD;
  2. The accused acted with the intent to transmit the disease or to cause another person to transmit the STD;
  3. The accused engaged in some conduct that created a substantial risk that another would receive the STD; and 
  4. The victim received the STD from the accused or a third party directed by the accused.

If the victim voluntarily engaged in sexual activity with the accused, the prosecution must prove that the victim did not know the accused had an STD. Also, a person is guilty of wilful exposure to an STD when a health care official warns the accused not to engage in any activity that could spread the disease and the accused does so within 96 hours after receiving the instruction.

California has STD reporting laws. Under these laws, a healthcare provider must report diagnoses of certain communicable diseases to public health agencies. Reportable diseases include:

  • Hepatitis, 
  • Syphilis,
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease,
  • Chancroid, and
  • Gonorrhea. 

Public health reporting requirements such as these help officials stop the spread of disease.

Penalties for a Conviction Under The California Wilful Exposure Law

In 2018, the California legislature amended the California AIDS law. Before the amendment, willfully exposing another to HIV or AIDS was a felony. Now, transmitting any STD, including HIV or AIDS is a misdemeanor.

The maximum penalty is a six-month sentence in the county jail, along with a $1,000 fine. Attempting to transmit an STD is punishable by 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The judge does not have to impose a jail sentence on a person found guilty under the California STD laws. Instead, California STD laws require the court to assess the accused to determine if the person should enter a community-based program instead of going to jail. The person must qualify for the program. Also, the program must redress the harm suffered by the victims. 

Defenses to Charges Under California STD Law

The law provides defenses to the crime of wilful exposure. A person is not guilty if they took practical measures to prevent transmission of the disease.

Measures include using a condom or other prophylactic means which creates a barrier between the two people. Also, medical testimony that indicates the conduct posed a low risk of transmission is a defense. Common law defenses such as lack of intent and consent may be viable as well.

Can You Sue Someone for Giving You an STD in California?

California law allows victims to sue the individuals who gave them an STD. The plaintiff in those lawsuits must prove that:

  • The defendant has an STD;
  • The defendant failed to disclose the STD to the victim;
  • The defendant took no steps to prevent transmission of the STD; and
  • The victim suffered foreseeable harm.

Victims have brought civil claims in California courts for damages against people who transmitted HIV and herpes simplex.

Where to Turn for Legal Help for Charges Brought Under California STD Laws

The lawyers at the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, have earned a reputation as strong advocates for people accused of crimes because of their legal skill and compassion.

Contact us today or call us at (619) 234-2300 to schedule a confidential consultation. We will review your case with you and begin preparing your best defense.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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