Published July, 2000

State v. Schmidt, 771 So. 2d 131 (La. Ct. App. 2000)

State v. Schmidt is the second case in the state of Louisiana in which a defendant was convicted of attempted second degree murder for exposing another person to HIV. Schmidt, a medical doctor, was sentenced to fifty years imprisonment at hard labor for intentionally injecting and infecting his ex-girlfriend with blood from one of his HIV positive patients.

According to the prosecution, on July 19, 1994, Dr. Richard Schmidt intentionally injected Janice Trahan with fluids containing HIV and Hepatitis C, telling her it was a B-12 shot. The opinion includes a lengthy recitation of the extremely detailed facts of the case, including Trahan's infection with HIV. After a jury found Schmidt guilty of attempted second degree murder, he appealed his conviction. The trial court relied on the "medical inevitability of HIV" being ultimately fatal, and the appeals court agreed. Schmidt's appeal challenged several aspects of his trial including the sufficiency of the evidence brought against him. In a lengthy opinion, a Louisiana Court of Appeal rejected each of Schmidt's arguments and affirmed Schmidt's conviction and sentence. The court held that a reasonable jury could have found, based on the evidence presented, that Schmidt was guilty of attempted second degree murder. The court further held that all of the evidence against Schmidt, including a scientific analysis of the strand of HIV found in Trahan's blood and the strand of HIV found in the person from whom Schmidt was accused of taking bodily fluids in order to infect Trahan, was in fact properly admitted. The court also rejected Schmidt's argument that his sentence was excessive. The court held that considering the harm that Schmidt caused Trahan and her family as well as the fact that he abused his position as a medical doctor to cause such harm, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it sentenced him to fifty years imprisonment at hard labor.

This case is illustrative when compared to another Louisiana case in which HIV exposure led to an attempted second degree murder conviction, State v. Caine, 652 So.2d 611 (La. Ct. App. 1995). In both cases the defendant was convicted of attempted second degree murder for HIV exposure, and was given the maximum sentence of fifty years at hard labor. However, in the Caine case the victim was not infected with HIV. Actual infection, then, is not the crux of conviction; the mere specter of HIV infection is treated as legally analogous to actual intentional HIV infection.