Enforcement of HIV Criminal Laws in Virginia

December 2021

There is a movement in the U.S. to modernize HIV-specific criminal laws to bring them in line with current medical science. Using data obtained from the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the Virginia Department of State, this study examines the enforcement of HIV-related criminalization laws in Virginia since 2001.

More than two-thirds of U.S. states and territories have enacted HIV criminal laws.
Disparities appear in the enforcement of Virginia's HIV criminalization laws based on race and gender.
Black men are the most likely to be arrested and convicted of HIV-related crimes in Virginia.
Data Points
people in Virginia have been arrested for HIV-related crimes since 2001

Executive Summary

The Williams Institute analyzed data from the state of Virginia about individuals who came into contact with the state’s criminal legal system through allegations of committing crimes related to HIV, Hepatitis B, and syphilis (HIV-related crimes).1 The analysis reveals that

  • At least 97 people in Virginia have been arrested for allegations of at least 147 separate HIV-related criminal offenses since the year 2001.
    • Arrests for consensual sexual contact without disclosing HIV status account for about four in ten (41%) of all HIV-related arrests.
    • About six in ten arrests (59%) alleged “intent to transmit” HIV or another disease.
  • Arrests for HIV crimes fall disproportionately on Black Virginians: Black people account for 20% of Virginia’s population, but 58% of the state’s people living with HIV (PLWH), and 68% of all those arrested for HIV-related offenses.
  • Men are 75% of the state’s PLWH, but 87% of people arrested for HIV-related offenses.
    • Black men are 40% of PLWH in Virginia, but 59% of all people arrested for HIV-related offenses.
  • Over 40% of those arrested for HIV offenses in Virginia come from Richmond (18%), Norfolk (10%), Newport News (5%), Virginia Beach (4%), and Amherst County (4%).
  • In all, 18% of those arrested for HIV-related crimes only came into contact with the criminal legal system because of allegations of HIV-related offenses—they had no other criminal history.
  • Until 2021, Virginia’s HIV-related criminal statute did not require contact that can transmit HIV, nor did it require actual transmission.
  • Charges were filed in over 70% of HIV-related arrests in Virginia.
    • Overall, over half (54%) of all charges filed resulted in a guilty outcome.
  • Guilty outcomes resulted in a sentence of 2.1 years on average.
    • In total, people were sentenced to 121 years for HIV-related convictions.
  • Incarcerating people for HIV-related offenses has cost Virginia at least $3.2 million.

Download the full report

Enforcement of HIV Criminal Laws in Virginia

Virginia’s HIV criminalization law provides the same criminal sanctions for HIV, syphilis, and Hepatitis B. We are not able to identity arrests or prosecutions based on each specific disease status. However, we are unable to locate any press reports of a person prosecuted for Hepatitis B. We were able to locate only one press report of a prosecution for syphilis. Moreover, our research from other states that criminalize HIV along with other diseases has shown that the vast majority of arrests involve HIV. For example, in California there were 1,174 incidents related to the state’s HIV crimes, but only 74 where either the crime was related to another disease or was not discernible. In other words, at least 94% of disease-related criminal incidents involved HIV. See Amira Hasenbush, Ayako Miyashita, and Bianca Wilson, The Williams Institute, University of California Los Angeles School of Law, HIV Criminalization in California: Penal Implications for People Living With HIV/AIDS (2015) ( Accordingly, we use the phrase “HIV-related” throughout as a shorthand for HIV, syphilis, and Hepatitis B.