An Atlanta judge who sentenced an HIV-positive man to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated assault and battery for biting a policeman has been branded too lenient.
The assistant district attorney had recommended a “more appropriate” 15 years because during the bite the man told the cop, “I have AIDS…you are going to die”.
In a long analytical article that appeared in last week’s Atlanta Sunday Paper, not once is there any mention of the lack of possiblity that HIV could have been transmitted during the bite. Instead, the article takes it for granted that the biter’s words were a literal and real threat – as real as a shooting or stabbing.
Tom Clegg, a former DeKalb County assistant district attorney who [previously] prosecuted [the HIV-positive man], who is deaf, [said of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Marvin] Arrington’s sentence… “I think it is very lenient, especially in light of [the] comment, ‘You are going to die.’ Whether he succeeded in infecting him or not, 18 months in jail is a gift.” Clegg says the assistant district attorney’s recommendation of 15 years with six to serve was more appropriate. “What if he had shot the cop? What if he had stabbed the cop? Frankly, I think most police officers would rather be shot than to have to suffer having a terminal illness,” he says. “The sentence is extraordinarily lenient.”
As is typical of these cases, the article also focuses on the pain, worry and anti-HIV drug side-effects that Officer Andrew Fincher suffered following the bite.
During the past year, Fincher, who tests negative for the disease, has endured a harsh HIV drug regimen, which Grady Hospital’s Dr. Jeffrey Salomone says was administered as a precaution. While Fincher suffered through drug side effects including nausea, diarrhea and extreme fatigue, always worried that the next test would show he had HIV, he willed himself to look forward to the day when the offender, [man’s name], 42, would be sentenced to a long stay in jail.
However, Judge Arrington, despite another article in the same paper claiming he is far too liberal to serve as a judge, did not reduce the sentencing due to his understanding of the reality of the miniscule risks of HIV transmission in this case. Neither was it because he appreciated the fact that in moments of stress and fear, people with HIV sometimes feel they have to use the stigma of HIV as a weapon to defend themselves, even whilst knowing that HIV itself is no more effective than a water pistol when used as an actual weapon.
Rather, in an email to the paper, the judge defends the 18 month sentence by claiming that no credible evidence was presented about the HIV-related aspect of the case.
“The State reported that when the defendant bit the officer, the defendant screamed something to the effect that he had full-blown AIDS and the officer was going to die (the transcript is not yet prepared so this is a mere approximation). Defense counsel cast doubt on that statement because there is no mention of any such statement in the police report or any of the discovery packet. A statement of that magnitude, defense argued, would have surely been included,” says Arrington via e-mail.
So, Judge Arrington ignored that fact that the man had HIV and sentenced him as he would have an HIV-negative cop-biter.
That, I believe, is ultimately fair; and that kind of equal treatment (regardless of the reasons for it) is what I ask of courts and judges everywhere.
Update: October 4th. Judge Arrington has written a two page letter responding to the paper’s criticism, which has been rebuked by the editor.