California Law Against Knowingly Transmitting HIV Too Narrow, Prosecutors Say
A five-year-old California law (SB 705) criminalizing the act of knowingly exposing a sexual partner to HIV is too narrow, making it difficult to secure convictions under the law, some California prosecutors say, the Los Angeles Times reports. Since the law was enacted in 1998, only one person has been convicted under the measure (Glionna, Los Angeles Times, 9/10). The law makes it a felony -- punishable by up to eight years in prison -- to knowingly expose or infect an unaware person to HIV. The law also allows a person's HIV status to be disclosed if the person is the subject of a criminal investigation for committing this crime (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/1/98). Laws in 24 other states make it a crime for individuals who know they are HIV-positive to engage in unprotected sex without informing their partners of their status. However, California's law requires prosecutors to prove that defendants acted "with the specific intent" to transmit HIV to their partner or partners. The specific-intent clause has caused an ongoing debate between HIV advocates, who say the law's language protects HIV-positive people from unfounded accusations, and law enforcement officials, who say that the measure limits their ability to prosecute such cases, according to the Times.
The law has become the subject of debate again due to the criminal trial of former San Francisco Health Commissioner Ron Hill, who has been accused of knowingly infecting former partner Thomas Lister with HIV, the Times reports. Lister testified last week before a grand jury (Los Angeles Times, 9/10). Lister has said that Hill knew he had HIV and repeatedly lied about his condition. Lister eventually discovered Hill's HIV status in a medical document after the two had engaged in unprotected sex during their five-month relationship. Lister tested HIV-positive in October 2002 and confronted Hill about his infection, but Hill continued to deny that he was HIV-positive. San Francisco Superior Court Commissioner Loretta Norris last year in a civil case ordered Hill to pay Lister $5 million in damages for knowingly exposing him to HIV and lying about his HIV status (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/28/2002). The grand jury met yesterday for a second and final time to consider the criminal case, but the specific-intent clause will make delivering an indictment "complicated," according to the Times (Los Angeles Times, 9/10).