Being HIV-Positive Is Not a Crime

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April 25, 2012

In September 2006, David Plunkett was arrested following an altercation with police, during which he allegedly bit a police officer. Plunkett subsequently revealed that he has HIV, and he was charged with aggravated assault upon a police officer, a felony premised on use of a "dangerous instrument."

Lambda Legal has filed a friend-of-the-court brief with New York State's highest court, urging it to drop the aggravated assault charge. The brief explains that the realities of HIV transmission do not support prosecuting Plunkett under a "dangerous instrument" law. We also argue that this charge leads to public misunderstanding of how the virus is transmitted, contributes to stigmatizing people with HIV, and undermines important public health goals.

Scott Schoettes, Director of Lambda Legal's HIV Project, says:

The last time I checked, being HIV-positive is not a crime. And a person should not face criminal punishment—or, as in this case, significantly enhanced penalties—simply because he or she happens to be living with HIV.

There was no possibility of transmission here. The real "dangerous instrument" appears to be in the hands of the prosecutors, who are twisting this law to trump up the charges against a man who is living with HIV.

Lambda Legal filed the brief on behalf of the American Academy of HIV Medicine, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, the Center for HIV Law and Policy and the HIV Medicine Association.

The complete brief is here, and more information about the case is here.