Lambda Legal Joins Statement Against the Criminalization of HIV

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July 24, 2012
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Lambda Legal is urging federal and state officials to modernize HIV criminal laws and prosecution policies.

We've endorsed a joint statement released today by the Positive Justice Project, a national alliance of people living with HIV and their advocates, calling on officials to end the use of special laws and rules for handling criminal complaints that a person with HIV “exposed” another person to their bodily fluids.

Thirty-four U.S states and territories have laws criminalizing HIV “exposure” (including through risk-free conduct such as spitting and biting) or nondisclosure of an individual’s HIV status. Hundreds of Americans with HIV across the country are serving multi-decade sentences for so-called exposure of another to HIV—in many cases, even when no transmission has occurred.

Lambda Legal HIV Project Director Scott Schoettes says:

Singling people out for extra punishment based on HIV status is plain bad policy. What we really need to do is create an environment in which people with HIV feel safe to disclose this information voluntarily to their sexual partners.

Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case of David Plunkett, a man who bit a police officer and was charged with aggravated assault, based on an allegation that his saliva constituted a “dangerous instrument” because he has HIV. New York State's highest court rejected the charge.

Today's statement calls on officials to ensure that any prosecution based on exposure of HIV requires proof of an intent to harm, conduct that is likely to result in that harm, proof that the conduct of the accused resulted in the alleged harm and punishment that is proportionate to the actual harm caused by the defendant’s conduct.

Other endorsers include Congressman Hansen Clarke of Michigan, the Center for HIV Law and Policy, AIDS United, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Housing Works, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors and the National Minority AIDS Council.

Read the joint statement here.