Is Willful Exposure to an Infectious Disease a Crime?

Infectious diseases and the laws surrounding them have been on all of our minds this past year. Many of us have found ourselves asking questions we never would have dreamt of before 2020. An example of such a question is whether willful exposure to an infectious disease is a crime?

The answer is yes. The issue is addressed in California’s Health and Safety Code 120290 HS. The code makes it a crime to willfully and knowingly take steps that could result in others getting sick. The hope is that by making spreading infectious germs a crime, then people will stop and think before they do things like hanging out at their favorite bar, attend a sporting event, or go on first dates when they’re aren’t feeling well.

In cases that involve the willfully spreading of an infectious disease, the prosecutor faces an uphill battle when it comes to proving their case. The challenge is that they not only have to prove that you had an infectious disease, but that you knew about it and understood what you were doing when went out in public. They also have to prove that you took actions that were specifically designed to transmit the disease to another person.

In the past, most cases involving the willful spread of an infectious disease involved people who had been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS acting recklessly and deliberately trying to spread the disease to other people. These cases were few and far between. 

We’re now hyper-aware that outbreaks of many diseases can be prevented when people who have already been infected actively take steps to isolate themselves when they are sick.

One of the most important things to remember when it comes to the willful exposure of infectious diseases in California is that it is only a crime if you are actually diagnosed with the disease.

At this point, the act of willfully spreading an infectious disease in California is considered a misdemeanor. If convicted, you could be sentenced to a six-month jail sentence and fined up to $1,000.