US: Landmark statement from State Prosecutor calling for modernisation of HIV criminal law in Illinois

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, representing the second largest prosecutor’s office in the nation, recently conducted an interview with the Windy City Times where she spoke about the work that needs to be done to modernize HIV criminal laws in Illinois. Alvarez, an inaugural member of CHLP’s National Prosecutor’s Roundtable on HIV Law and Policy, a joint project with the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, shared this reply:

Windy City Times: Are you in favor of criminal penalties for transmission of HIV/failure to truthfully disclose HIV status?

Anita Alvarez: Frankly, the Illinois law entitled “Criminal Transmission of HIV” is a relic of the now debunked notions of HIV infection from the 1980s. This law, if we are going to keep it, is in need of a serious revision. For example, as it stands, it is a defense to the charge if an individual can show that a condom was used during the sex act but it is not a defense if the individual was currently taking anti-retroviral drugs. The CDC estimates that condoms are 80% effective at reducing the risk of transmission of HIV while a modern drug regimen will render an HIV positive person “undetectable” and reduce the risk of transmission by more than 95%. Furthermore, with modern medical intervention, HIV, while still a serious health issue for people, has become a manageable condition that can be treated without serious impairment to living a normal, healthy and active life. There are many other diseases nowadays that are far more life impairing than HIV and are transmittable through sexual contact yet we don’t specifically criminalize those conditions. That simply makes no sense and is clearly out of date and out of line with modern science. I have been actively engaged in discussions with Catherine Hanssens, the Director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy, on ways that we can address this issue that make sense and balance the need to protect people from someone who might wish to intentionally transmit a serious disease while not unjustly targeting people who are HIV positive. I am hopeful that we can create best practices for prosecutors across the nation on this subject and that, in Illinois, we can move to statutory revision that makes sense on this issue.

 Interview originally published in The Center for HIV Law and Policy