Smallwood v. State
343 Md. 97, 680 A.2d 512 (1996)

  • Smallwood was a rapist. He also happened to know that he was infected with the HIV virus. During his assaults, he knowingly exposed his victims to the potentially lethal virus.
  • Smallwood was arrested and charge with (among other things), assault with intent to murder.
    • Although Smallwood never actively tried to murder anyone, the prosecutor argued that Smallwood’s knowledge that his intentional acts could infect his victims rose to the level of attempted murder.
  • The Trial Court found convicted Smallwood of assault with intent to murder. He appealed.
    • Smallwood argued that at best he was acting recklessly. He did not have an intent to murder.
  • The Maryland Supreme Court overturned the conviction.
    • The Maryland Supreme Court found that the probability of getting infected from HIV and then dying from the disease years later is relatively small.
      • The risk is certainly not zero, but it is significantly less than if you point a gun at someone and shoot them.
    • The Court found that, without additional evidence, the low probability of death and long incubation time for HIV infection do not support a finding that Smallwood intended to murder his victims.
      • The Court suggested that if there was evidence that Smallwood had said he wanted his victims to die, or had taken specific actions with the intent to spread the disease, then he could be convicted, for example:
        • In State v. Hinkhouse (912 P.2d 921 (1996)), Hinkhouse said that he was specifically attempting to spread the virus.
        • In State v. Caine (652 So.2d 611 (1995)), Caine stabbed someone with a needle while shouting “I’ll give you AIDS!”