Ohio v. Bird

Summary

Jimmy Bird, who has HIV, was charged with felonious assault with a deadly weapon after he spit in a police officer’s face during an arrest. He pled no contest, but filed an appeal after his probation was revoked. The intermediate appellate court affirmed the judgment against him. Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing that medical and scientific evidence do not support convicting someone with HIV for felonious assault, because saliva does not transmit HIV. The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the conviction on the grounds that Bird admitted the truth of the allegations against him when he entered a "no contest" plea.

Context

The saliva of someone who has HIV cannot transmit HIV. Prosecutions of people with HIV based on conduct that does not pose a risk of HIV transmission are harmful to both people who live with HIV and the general public. Such prosecutions fuel irrational discrimination and dangerously mislead the public about how HIV is actually transmitted.

Lambda Legal's Impact

Lambda Legal’s friend-of-the-court brief explained how HIV is actually transmitted, and explained that Bird’s conduct did not put the officer at risk. Courts need accurate information about HIV and its transmission in order to avoid rulings that contribute to HIV discrimination and stigma.

History

  • January 1994 Bird pleas no contest to charge of felonious assault.
  • June 1996 Ohio Court of Appeals grants Bird’s motion for a delayed appeal of his conviction.
  • December 1996 Court affirms Bird’s conviction, ruling that Bird waived his right to consent that saliva can transmit HIV.
  • August 1997 Lambda Legal files friend-of-the-court brief in Ohio Supreme Court.
  • May 1998 Ohio Supreme Court issues decision affirming conviction, but does not reach issue of whether HIV can be transmitted via saliva.

Case Information

Status: Closed

Attorneys

Lambda Legal
Heather Sawyer