Black people account for 82% of HIV-related criminal cases in Maryland

Since 2000, up to 104 people have been charged with an HIV-related crime in Maryland, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. The state’s HIV-related criminal laws are disproportionately enforced based on gender and race. Black people, and Black men in particular, are overrepresented in HIV-related crimes.

Black people make up 30% of Maryland’s population, 71% of people living with HIV, and 82% of HIV-related criminal cases. Black men comprise 14% of the state’s population and 44% of people living with HIV. However, they make up 68% of people accused in HIV-related criminal cases.

Researchers analyzed data obtained from the Maryland State Administrative Office of the Courts, which provided information about prosecutions under the state’s HIV-related criminal statute. Findings show that the enforcement of HIV criminal laws is highly concentrated by geography—over two-thirds (69%) of all people accused in HIV-related cases originated in Baltimore City (32%), Montgomery County (19%), and Prince George’s County (18%).

HIV criminalization is a term used to describe laws that either criminalize otherwise legal conduct or increase the penalties for illegal conduct based on a person’s HIV-positive status. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. states and territories currently have laws that criminalize people living with HIV.

Maryland has one HIV-specific criminal law that makes it a misdemeanor for a person living with HIV, who is aware of their HIV-positive status, to “knowingly transfer or attempt to transfer” HIV to another person. The maximum sentence for a conviction is three years in prison and may include a fine of up to $2,500. Maryland’s HIV criminal law does not require actual transmission of HIV, intent to transmit, or even conduct that can transmit HIV.

In many states, women—and most commonly Black women—are disproportionately affected by HIV criminal laws. However, many of these states have HIV criminal laws that focus specifically on sex workers, whereas Maryland’s HIV-specific criminal law does not. In Maryland, men account for 86% of people charged with HIV-related offenses.

“Maryland’s law was enacted in 1989 at the height of the AIDS crisis before we had effective treatments for HIV,” said lead study author Nathan Cisneros, HIV Criminalization Project Director at the Williams Institute. “We now have medical treatments that wholly eliminate the risk of transmitting HIV through sex, yet these advances are not reflected in Maryland law despite several reform attempts in recent years.”

Key Findings

  • From 2000 to 2020, between 82 and 104 people have been prosecuted under Maryland’s HIV criminal law.
  • HIV criminal prosecutions continue to the present day. There were more HIV criminal cases from 2010 to 2020 (61) than from 2000 to 2010 (39).
  • The youngest person with an HIV-related conviction was 21 years old, and the oldest was 59 years old. The median age was 35 years old.
  • 41% of cases that included an HIV-related offense resulted in at least one guilty outcome on any charge.
    • 10% of cases resulted in a guilty outcome on the HIV-related charge(s).

This report is part of a series of reports examining the ongoing impact of state HIV criminalization laws on people living with HIV.

Read the report

January 4, 2024

Media Contact: Rachel Dowd
Office: 310-206-8982

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