Washington Journal of Law, Technology & Arts


Chelsey Heindel


In 1988, the Washington Legislature classified intentionally exposing individuals to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as criminal assault in the first degree. Lawmakers intended to penalize infected individuals without conditioning criminal liability on actual HIV transmission. Since 1988, however, medical technologies and effective HIV treatment have rapidly advanced. Recent studies indicate that effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) can reduce HIV transmission risks to a virtual impossibility during moments of intentional exposure. Despite these medical advances, the 1988 exposure law remains unchanged. Consequently, individuals undergoing effective ART risk felony liability within the course of commonplace work conduct by intentionally exposing others to a virtually impossible chance of HIV transmission. This Article will begin by reviewing how outdated legislation and judicial precedent impact HIV-positive people, as well as the employers and employees implicated as victims under criminal exposure laws, by highlighting the stark contrast between the law and technological advances in HIV treatment. The Article will then consider ways in which state legislatures and legal practitioners can simultaneously encourage responsible HIV treatment while honoring the utilitarian justifications underpinning criminal exposure laws.

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