Ohio Supreme Court Hears Argument for Release of HIV-Positive Man Imprisoned For Spitting

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Lambda Serves as Friend of the Court for Jimmy Bird
February 17, 1998

(CHICAGO, February 17, 1998) The Ohio Supreme Court Wednesday, February 18, will hear the appeal of Jimmy Bird, an HIV-positive man who has spent nearly three years in prison for spitting during an arrest, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Tuesday.

Bird was sentenced to three-to-15 years in prison for assault with a "deadly weapon" for allegedly spitting at a police officer during an arrest for disorderly conduct.

"In Bird's case, prosecution relied on unfounded fears and misinformation about HIV," said Heather Sawyer, Lambda's attorney on the case and staff attorney at its Midwest Regional Office. "This type of criminal prosecution is cruel and unconstitutional. It fuels irrational discrimination and dangerously misleads the public about the facts of AIDS."

Lambda filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Bird's appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. The brief argued that medical and scientific evidence do not support Bird's felonious assault conviction and his imprisonment. It also argued that, by inflicting harsh penalties on those with HIV for harmless acts, the justice system undermines the work of those struggling nationwide to educate the general public about HIV.

After Bird was sentenced, he lost his appeal in the appellate court, and he appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. That Court agreed last May to take argument in the case.

WHAT: Ohio Supreme Court hears appeal of HIV-positive man jailed for spitting

WHO: David Strait, Franklin County public defender; Heather Sawyer, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund

WHEN: Court begins to hear arguments at 9 am (The Bird case is second on the docket)

WHERE: Ohio Supreme Court, 3rd Floor, 30 E. Broad St., Columbus, OH


(State of Ohio v. Jimmy Bird, No. 97-0376)

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Contact: Peg Byron, 212-809-8585 x230, 888-987-1984 pager; Heather Sawyer, 312-663-4413 x22

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