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California HIV Laws: Intentionally Infecting Someone With Virus - No Longer A Felony


California's governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Friday that downgrades the crime of intentionally infecting a sexual partner with the virus from a felony to a misdemeanor.

At first glance a response would be why? I someone is intentionally infecting individuals with HIV, why wouldn't that be a felony? Some examples of a felony assault or battery are:

  • striking or threatening to strike a person with a weapon or dangerous object
  • shooting a person with a gun or threatening to kill someone while pointing a gun at the victim
  • assault or battery with the intent to commit another felony crime such as robbery or rape
  • assault or battery resulting in serious physical injury, including permanent disfigurement
  • assault (threat of violence) while concealing one’s identity, and
  • assault or battery against a member of a protected class, such as a police officer, healthcare provider, social services worker, or developmentally disabled or elderly person. -

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) praised California and Brown for signing into law Senate Bill (SB) 239 because they say it modernizes several provisions of California’s criminal code targeting people living with HIV.

“This important measure modernizes California’s HIV laws in response to clear and compelling evidence from public health science,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs. “Outdated HIV criminalization laws harm our efforts to achieve an AIDS-free generation by reinforcing stigma and discouraging people from getting tested out of fear that if they know their status, they may be accused of wrongdoing. We applaud Governor Jerry Brown for signing this measure into law.”

SB 239 is designed to reform various severely outdated HIV criminalization laws that when enacted solely relied on old science and stigma against people living with HIV.  Since the laws were enacted, however, there has been significant scientific advances in HIV prevention, care, and treatment. SB 239 helps California’s law reflect the current landscape by bringing it in line with current science. -

At second glance, is this all because HIV is no longer a death sentence? is it no longer a smoking gun?  I mean if you ask Gabby Gifford from Arizona, a victim of a shot to the face, so we lessen the criminal charges against the guy with the gun because surgery techniques are better now and she is alive and well and looking well?  Even though her life has been altered forever, she's not dead.

Senator Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) did not vote in the negative on this bill for he believes that purposefully infecting another person with a disease that could change their lifestyle and quality of life should be a felony, and that it is “absolutely crazy” that California’s HIV laws should “go light” instead of cracking down. Anderson said that tougher penalties should be imposed on people who knowingly spread infectious diseases to other individuals.

For a person to be convicted of a felony under this code, the prosecution must prove that the individual is guilty of all of the following: 1. Knew their HIV status; 2. Engaged in sexual intercourse without a condom; 3. Did not disclose their status to a sexual partner; 4. Acted with specific intent to infect a sexual partner with HIV.

According to a recent study conducted by the Williams Institute, from 1988 to June 2014 there were 385 incidents in which one or more HIV-specific charges were brought in the Golden State, and all of them resulted in a conviction. -

And that may be where the tide turns in favor of supporting this bill, now law. The lawmakers that authored Senate Bill (SB) 239,  Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego), emphasized that the change in California’s HIV laws would allow for the state to treat the virus like other serious infectious diseases.

HRC praises the new law for "SB 239 leaves HIV criminalization laws in place but lowers the penalties for the spread of HIV so they are in line with those of other communicable diseases. Health officers have the authority to issue orders of isolation and quarantine for anyone who poses a threat to public health, whether through bad intentions or through negligence."

Do you agree with SB 239 becoming law?

If you were infected by someone that knew they were positive and infected you intentionally, do you believe that isn't a felony?

Should California have raised the other charges of intentionally spreading ANY infectious diseases up to the level of felony/HIV instead of lowering the current charges addressed in SB 239?

Do you feel this new law will change the culture around HIV in California? Many are hoping so. As quoted above, Winterhof, HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs, said the felony law was "reinforcing stigma and discouraging people from getting tested out of fear that if they know their status, they may be accused of wrongdoing” Were men and women in California not getting tested because of the fear of being charged with a felony some time down the road?  Will we now see a flood of people testing themselves because the felony charges are now gone?