Focus on the Law: Criminal Exposure to STDs

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

In Tennessee the state legislature has passed specific statutes to make knowing exposure to certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) a criminal offense.   Under Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-13-309, “a person commits the offense of criminal exposure of another to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), to hepatitis B virus (HBV), or to hepatitis C virus (HCV) when, knowing the person is infected with HIV, with HBV or with HCV, the person knowingly engages in intimate contact with another;  transfers, donates or provides blood, tissue, semen, organs, or other potentially infectious body fluids or parts for transfusion, transplantation, insemination, or other administration to another in any manner that presents a significant risk of HIV, HBV, or HCV transmission;  or dispenses, delivers, exchanges, sells, or in any other way transfers to another any nonsterile intravenous or intramuscular drug paraphernalia.”

There is an affirmative defense to a conviction for the offense of criminal exposure described in the statute.  The accused must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the alleged victim exposed to HIV (or HBV or HCV) knew that the infected person was infected with that virus, knew that the action could result in infection with HIV (or HBV or HCV), and gave advance consent to the action with that knowledge.

The actual transmission of any of these viruses is not required for commission of the offense of criminal exposure.  Criminal exposure of another to HIV is a Class C felony.  A Class C felony is punishable by not less than three years nor more than fifteen years imprisonment and a fine not to exceed ten thousand dollars.  Criminal exposure to HBV or HCV is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), restitution to the victim or victims, or both a fine and restitution.  A victim of criminal exposure to HBV or HCV may file a civil suit to recover expenses and actual loss of service resulting from such exposure.

In a situation where an infected person refuses to control their behavior and exposes others, the law in Tenn. Code Ann. Section 39-13-108 authorizes the state department of health to create rules and procedures to protect the public from such a person who poses a “direct threat of significant risk” to the health and safety of the public regarding transmission of HIV.  This may include quarantine or isolation in a secured facility if the person continues to pose a direct threat to the health and safety of the public.  If the person intentionally escapes from the facility, they have committed a Class E felony.

Obviously, this article does not cover every specific issue which might arise.  Contact an attorney to get advice and assistance with your unique situation.  Sharon Frankenberg is an experienced attorney licensed in Tennessee since 1988.  She is a sole practitioner who handles foreclosures, evictions, probate, collections and general civil matters.  She represents Social Security disability claimants and represents creditors in bankruptcy proceedings. Her office is in Knoxville and she may be reached at (865)539-2100.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login