Congo: First ever criminal prosecution nets 15 years for husband under poisoning law

The Criminal Chamber of the Court of Appeal of Pointe-Noire in Congo (also known as the Republic of Congo, or Congo-Brazzaville – not to be confused with its larger neighbour, Democratic Republic of Congo) has sentenced an HIV-positive man to 15 years in prison after finding him criminally liable for his infecting his wife. 

The sentence – which also included a payment of $100 million CFA francs (approximately US$210,000) –  as well as the prosecution itself has caused a great deal of controversy since sentencing was handed down on February 24th.

According to a March 2nd report by Inter Press Service Africa (in French here, and Google translated into English here) the case was controversial for several reasons.

First, the judge used his discretion to try Congo’s first ever criminal HIV transmission case by utliting the law on poisoning.

“The poisoning in our legislation is not limited. This is an administration or inoculation of substance in the body that cause damage or death,” Raymond Nzondo, lawyer for the victim told IPS.

This law was likely inherited from when Congo was part of France’s empire. However, French case law has now established that sexual fluids are not poisons, so the anti-poisoning law no longer applies.

Adding to controversy is the fact that an HIV-specific law, adopted by parliament in December 2010 but currently waiting to be enacted, now lists the circumstances in which criminal law cannot be applied to HIV transmission, with criminal liability limited to “intentional and deliberate” HIV transmission. The wording was changed following a workshop convened by civil society in 2009 in accordance with UNAIDS’ recommendations.

“This is illegal, this offense does not even exist in our legislation. I condemn this verdict,” Irenaeus Malonga, counsel for the accused, told IPS. He added that he had “already appealed to the Court of cassation [Congo’s court of appeal].”

Local organisations of people living with HIV / AIDS have also condemned the verdict. “We do not recognise this sentence as it is illegal. We will organise actions to ensure the man’s release,” warned Thierry Maba, HIV-positive, president of the Association of Young Positives Congo, a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) based in Brazzaville, the Congolese capital.

“The state was supposed to protect us, but now exposes us now by trial. And (with) 15 years imprisonment for a patient, he will die in prison,” says Simon, 35, an HIV-positive man from Pointe-Noire.

The IPS article includes scant details of the actual case, but it does quote the man’s lawyer claiming that both husband and wife had other sexual liaisions during their ten year marriage which certainly would create reasonable doubt that her husband was only the source of the woman’s infection.

“Who knows exactly who brought the disease home? Is something imagined. Before they married, both spouses had their life, the only screening test is not enough to convict someone,” railed Maba.

To Malonga, counsel for the condemned, the expert analysis can not say with certainty that contaminated the first spouse. “The doubt is there! The woman slept around, the man also has slept around, and they were married then,” he said.

Adding to the doubt that husband was the source of his wife’s infection is the fact that he had been on tretament since 2000 – this fact was used to prove that he knew his HIV-positive status, but there was no argument made by his defence about reduced infectiousness on treatment.

According Nzondo, counsel for the victim, her husband was under treatment since 2000, but had said nothing to his wife. He therefore did not use a condom during sex. The woman then began to develop the disease in 2005.  “The man knew he was sick and was taking medication by hiding his wife. The fact was intentional and criminal,” said Nzondo. 

South Korea: Court refuses arrest warrant for teenage sex worker alleged to have exposed 20 men without disclosure

A 19 year-old female sex worker from the southern port of Busan was picked up by South Korean police last week after her father alleged she had unprotected sex with up to 20 male clients since testing HIV-positive in February.

However, according to an AFP report in The Straits Times

the court in Busan rejected a request from police to issue an arrest warrant for the woman, saying she should instead be sent to hospital for treatment.

A second report, from Asiaone.com notes that the young woman

reportedly said she suggested using contraceptives but her male partners refused to do so.

Of note, South Korea has no HIV-specific criminal laws.

In 2009 a 26-year-old HIV-positive man became the first person prosecuted under the country’s public health laws for having unprotected sex without first disclosing his HIV status. The man reportedly had sex with at least ten women. He received an 18-month prison sentence. The case occasioned calls for tougher laws for such conduct.

Ireland: Police HIV risk “as likely as being struck by asteroid”; compensation slashed

The risk faced by Irish police of occupational exposure to HIV and other blood-borne infections is “as likely as being struck by an asteroid,” according to expert testimony during a test compensation case conducted by Ms Justice Mary Irvine in July 2009 following a high level of compensation claims involving fear of transmission of such diseases coming before the Irish courts.

Since then, reports today’s Irish Independent, compensation payouts have been reduced from “upwards of €50,000” to between €5000 and €7000.

Full story below.

Garda payouts for injury fears slashed due to ‘tiny’ HIV risk
By Ray Managh
Tuesday July 13 2010

COMPENSATION for gardai claiming they suffered anxiety after minor scrapes with potential drug addicts has been slashed after the risk of illness was deemed to be “as likely as being struck by an asteroid”.

After a test case was taken before the High Court, damages for stress were yesterday cut to well below what can be awarded by the District Court.

But while this will save the State in compensation costs, the final bill will more than quadruple after legal costs are included.

Asteroid

Some judges, have, in the past, awarded gardai in similar cases upwards of €50,000 at a time when no significant attempt had been made to test for HIV contamination.

Ms Justice Mary Irvine conducted a test case during which she heard from medical experts that the risk of a garda contracting diseases from drug addicts was as likely as being struck by an asteroid.

Since delivering her judgment, Ms Justice Irvine has significantly reduced that element of compensation relating strictly to anxiety about contracting an anti-social disease.

Yesterday, she reminded authorities of the need to allay garda fears through continued education about the remote risk of infection. She said in incidents of injury it was important to carry out tests on assailants.

Gda Cormac McAvock, of Oranhill, Oranmore, Galway, was awarded €7,000 for anxiety and physical injury he suffered while making an arrest when he was stationed in Mullingar.

He did not know what had caused a finger wound but had been advised to have blood tests. He did not have counselling and had not asked that his assailant be tested for HIV.

Gda Gerard Ryan, of The Grove, Louisa Valley, Leixlip, Co Kildare, was awarded €5,000 for stress suffered after he was injured during an arrest.

Ms Justice Irvine said he had believed he had been bitten by his assailant who was not a known drug user and he had been advised of the very minute risk of infection.

US: Media, police, judge conspire in ‘hate crime’ against gay HIV-positive man in biting case

I am so mad I could spit and bite! I’ve seen a lot of bad reporting and bad legal decisions during my time blogging, but never before have I seen the media conspire with the criminal justice system in such a calculated, prejudiced, stigmatising, and ultimately harmful way.

A gay man from a small city in Michigan who has been harrassed and beaten up by neighbours for years, has been charged with “assault with intent to maim, assault with intent to commit great bodily harm and possession or use of a harmful device” after the latest assault resulted in biting his neighbour the lip whilst he was defending himself.

The story first appeared on October 30th in the Detroit News.

Although police allege [the accused] was the lone attacker — biting neighbor Winfred Fernandis Jr., 28, on the lip following the Oct. 18 confrontation — [the acccused] says he’s long been the target of bigotry on his street, and Fernandis, along with several of Fernandis’ family members, took turns beating him.

“I have no memory of biting him,” said [the accused], who is due in 41-B District Court for a preliminary hearing Monday. He divulged his HIV status after questioning from the media. “This person has been threatening me for years. The hatred needs to stop.”

“He divulged his HIV status after questioning from the media.”

How did that happen? Well, Fox News did some ‘investigating’ and discovered he was HIV-positive. They asked him to confirm it on camera – he did. They then told the bitten neighbour on camera. That’s when it got ugly.

Here’s the Fox News report.


Since HIV is involved, Clinton Township District Court Judge Linda Davis said during a preliminary hearing on November 2nd that just knowing he was HIV-positive and biting the neighbour is enough to sustain these very serious charges, reports a second story in the Detroit News.

“He knew he was HIV-positive, and he bit the guy,” Davis said. “That on its own shows intent.”

No it doesn’t, Judge Davis, because saliva from a bite does not expose someone to HIV. Now she is implicated, along with the police and the complainant (and his wife), in a hate crime.

“I am still maintaining my client is the victim of a hate crime,” [the man’s attorney, James L. Galen Jr.] said. “He will be exonerated. This is the very first battle in what I think is going to be a long war.”

A pretrial and arraignment will take place on November 16th.

US: Georgia judge branded ‘too lenient’ after 18 month sentence for cop biter

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.

Ireland, UK, US: Spitting and biting cases highlight police ignorance

Whether its Fort Mill, South Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; Rutland, Vermont; or Wimbledon in the UK, the police and media have been over-estimating the risk of HIV transmission from biting or spitting over the past two weeks with devastating consequences for all concerned.

South Carolina: Where biting is attempted murder
In Fort Mill, a man who bit his neighbour in a fight had his charges upgraded from simple assault to assault and battery with attempt to kill once police learned of the man’s HIV status, according to a report in The Herald.

Assault and battery with intent to kill is a felony that carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years upon conviction, Fort Mill Police Capt. Bryan Zachary said. “Upon review of the facts of the case,” Zachary said, the solicitor’s office “confirmed because of the malicious intent involved that the charge of assault and battery with intent to kill was warranted.

And yet, according to local TV station WSOC the bite did not break the skin.

London: Policeman’s unnecessary agony
There may be no attempted murder charges for biting under English law, but in Wimbledon, according to This is Local London, “a policeman bitten by an HIV-positive drug addict [during his arrest] faces an anxious wait to see whether he has contracted the virus.”

And during his wait he will, according to the report, “need at least seven months of anti-viral medication.” Yet Post Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV exposure lasts just 28 days and is not actually warranted for a bite.

Vermont: Where post-spit anxiety lasts a year
A policeman in Rutland faces totally unnecessary anxiety after being spit on by an HIV-positive man who had been trying to commit suicide.

The Times Argus reports:

A man diagnosed with the virus that causes AIDS is charged with a felony for spitting into the face of a Rutland police officer who must now undergo a year’s worth of testing to discover whether he was infected with HIV. […]

It was while doctors in the emergency room were treating [the man] that he allegedly cocked his head back and spit into the face, eyes and mouth of city police Sgt. David Schauwecker, who was trying to control [his] head, according to the affidavit. [The man], who was arrested more than a week later after his release from the hospital, has no prior criminal record.

But the charge he faces now is tantamount to a life-threatening assault, according to Rutland County Deputy State’s Attorney Kathryn Smith. “The nature of this offense is extremely concerning,” Smith said. “He knows he has a deadly disease and yet he exposed another human being to that disease. … This case before us is an actual act of violence.”

“Everything in my life is basically put on hold for a year,” said Schauwecker, who will be tested every three months to look for signs of HIV. “I went there that night trying to save someone and now I’m looking at a life sentence.”

Today, the Rutland Herald ran a letter from AIDS NGO, Vermont Cares, entitled ‘Clearing up HIV myths’. They wrote:

Enforcing the myth that HIV is spread through saliva… protects the health of no one. In fact, unfounded fears about HIV transmission and misunderstanding of risk can endanger people with HIV.

To be clear, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers no demonstrated cases of saliva ever transmitting HIV. Transmittable HIV is present in four bodily fluids only: blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.

Having someone spit in your eye or mouth is definitely frightening and may transmit other pathogens from influenza to tuberculosis. However, HIV is a highly unlikely risk in this instance.

Enforcing fear and misinformation about HIV, and promoting the belief that HIV testing is a variable enough science to postpone relationships and life, would be a terrible consequence of this incident. HIV testing, by CDC recommendations, is nearly 100 percent accurate at six or even three months.

Florida: Where attempted spitting is now a felony
In late July, Jacksonville police charged a 29 year-old HIV-positive man with aggravated assault with intent to commit a felony after he attempted to spit on a police officer following his arrest for shoplifting.

The arresting officer said that on the drive to jail, [the man] started coughing and trying to spit on the officer from the back seat of the patrol car in an “effort to transmit his HIV disease.” The officer had to put a “spit mask” on [the man]’s face before taking him to jail.

The short piece on firstcoastnews.com included the man’s name and photo. There are now seven pages of readers comments that range from the homo- and trans-phobic to pure HIV hatred. One reader even found and published the man’s previous (minor) criminal record. I genuinely fear for the man’s safety in- or out of jail.

Ireland: Judge concerned about police’s lack of education of HIV transmission risks of biting and spitting
The Irish Times reports that a High Court Judge, Ms Justice Mary Irvine, recently brought in a medical expert to testify over the risk faced by police of occupational exposure to HIV and other blood-borne diseases “as a result of the high number of Garda [Irish police] compensation claims involving fear of transmission of such diseases coming before the court.”

The judge awarded a policeman €8000 compensation after hearing testimony that “he had been “petrified” and suffered nightmares and sleeplessness after having been bitten during the arrest of a known drug user”.

Colm Bergin, a consultant in infectious diseases, told the court that in 10 years’ practice he had never come across a case of transmission of HIV or Hepatitis C through saliva.

The court also heard that:

  • the risk of contracting HIV or Hepatitis C from saliva can be as low as one in 100,000; and
  • that transmission of such diseases through contact with blood was also negligible.

[The judge] had expressed concern as to how well [police] were educated about risks to members contracting saliva and blood transmitted diseases through bites, spittle or needle stick injuries. “Such attacks are happening on a daily basis and there are huge numbers of compensation cases coming before the court,” the judge said. She has asked for reports on the risks involved and what is being done to reassure [police] injured in assaults as to the low level of risk.

Canada: Alberta judge, police believe that spitting transmits HIV

An Edmonton, Alberta man who claimed he was HIV-positive and then spat in the eye of a police officer has been sent to prison for five months for assaulting a peace officer, with the policeman’s fear of infection being an aggravating factor in sentencing. The man was later (mandatorily?) tested and found not to be HIV-positive.

According to the Edmonton Sun, Judge Michael Stevens-Guille requires some HIV transmission training like his Ontario counterpart Jon-Jo Douglas.

“Spitting is disgusting,” said Judge Michael Stevens-Guille, pointing out that, years ago, expectorating on someone was not considered to be worse than punching the person in the nose. However, as a result of the dangers of transmitting communicable diseases, it is now considered far more dangerous and there is a need to protect people like the police from such perils, said Stevens-Guille. The judge also noted it was aggravating that the police officer involved was “very frightened’ by the potential he might have contracted the HIV virus and had to go through the worry of waiting for blood test results.

I agree with Judge Stevens-Guille on just one point: spitting is disgusting. However, although being spat upon is unpleasant, and may be a symbolic assault, it is not a way to transmit HIV.

Read this fascinating blog entry from Sally’s Trove on what can be transmitted by spitting, and the history and legacy of US spitting laws.

US: New HIV as a ‘deadly weapon’ case in North Carolina (updated)

Another US jurisdiction has classified a person living with HIV as a walking deadly weapon. North Carolina police yesterday charged a 45 year-old HIV-positive man with “assault inflicting serious bodily injury and assault with a deadly weapon” after he resisted arrest in Durham.

According to a brief report in The News & Observer, the police report says that the man

knowing he is HIV-positive, twice tried to expose the officer to his blood, once by cutting the officer’s thumb and also by head-butting him and biting his ear.

This prompted one local citizen to write in the comments section

This was a vicious act. If the officer had escalated the continuum of force level to shooting and killing this person he wwould [sic] have been justified. We don’t know how this individual acquired HIV and that doesn’t matter in that a decent human being would not knowingly have exposed another to the disease.

Another wrote

BoldThis event should lead to a charge of attempted murder because that is what it is. This act by this infected man is willful and intentional. May God be with the officer and find him or her free and clear of this dreadful disease.

The man, who was also charged with “injury to real property and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle,” will appear in court on June 29th.

Update: June 23rd

The man actually appeared in court yesterday. The hearing was filmed by local TV station, News14.

It is now patently clear to me, from the details revealed, that the risk of HIV transmission from the acccused to the police officers was so slim as to be negligable.The facts are that he cut a police officer’s right thumb while he was bleeding (interestingly, it doesn’t say how he got to be bleeding) while that officer was trying to arrest him (and it doesn’t say that he intentionally did so). He also didn’t actually bite the other policeman’s ear, but only “tried to bite that officer’s ear”.

And yet, Judge William Marsh III tells the court

“If Mr. Perry is engaged in the behaviour described, knowing that he has a potentially fatal condition with the ability to infect others, I consider that a serious offence, and could very well have potential to be increased to something more serious.”

This still suggests that when someone who is HIV-positive resists arrest, they can be seen as being ‘deadly weapons’ in the absence of any real possibility of transmitting the virus. This surely is a prime example of HIV-related discrimination based on ignorance and stigma.

Canada: Prosecutions having negative impact on disclosure; Edwin Cameron speaks out

In my news story for aidsmap earlier this week, I wrote:

Over the past week, the global movement against criminalisation of HIV transmission received its biggest boost since the International AIDS Conference in Mexico last July. In rallies and meetings in Australia, Canada and Sweden leading judges, lawyers and politicians joined with HIV-positive advocates and civil society organisations to condemn the criminal justice system’s current approach to HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission.

I’ve already posted more detailed information about the Australian meeting, one of the two events in Canada, and highlighted the situation in Sweden. Below I’m posting highlights from newspaper coverage of South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron’s speech in Toronto last Friday.

Update: The official text of Edwin Cameron’s address is now available from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network website. (Une version française est disponible ici). An audio recording, which captures both the passion of his delivery, and some off-the-cuff changes, is available in the same location. Video may also be made available at a later date.

The Toronto Star ran a major article headlined, Judge slams criminalization of HIV, which put forward, without critique, Mr Justice Cameron’s international policy arguments as to why Canada needs to think again about its nondisclosure law.

Canada’s relentless practice of invoking the criminal law against people with HIV and AIDS is only intensifying the stigma surrounding the conditions and contravenes United Nations guidelines, argues a judge of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, who is HIV-positive himself.

African countries that look to Canada as a world leader on human rights issues are getting the wrong message when it puts people with HIV/AIDS on trial for having unprotected sex, even when the virus has not been transmitted, Justice Edwin Cameron said yesterday.

“Canada’s wide approach to exposure offences is sending out a terribly retrograde message to other countries, especially on my own continent, in Africa,” said Cameron, who delivered the keynote speech last night to kick off a weekend symposium on HIV and human rights issues, hosted by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

With human immunodeficiency virus still steeped in so much stigma in Africa that many are afraid to be tested, Canada is not providing a good example of dealing rationally and justly with the epidemic, said Cameron, noting Canada is a “world leader” in targeting HIV-positive people for prosecution.

[…]

AIDS activists, Cameron said, must accept there may be instances in which criminal liability is justified, noting that one example might be the recent case in Hamilton of Johnson Aziga, convicted of first-degree murder for actively deceiving women about his HIV status and infecting them.

But Canada needs to rethink its sweeping use of the criminal law and question why it is singling out HIV-positive people for prosecution when the same Criminal Code powers are not being used against those who expose people to other potentially deadly conditions, he said.

“Let’s take, for example, the two recent health scares, swine flu and the highly, highly contagious forms of tuberculosis. We had a case where somebody got onto an aircraft with a highly transmissible form of tuberculosis, and no one ever suggested that person should be prosecuted.”

“Queer activist” Andrew Brett also wrote about Mr Justice Cameron’s speech on rabble.ca. It’s becoming clear that the fallout of the Johnson Aziga verdict is hitting HIV-positive Canadians really hard. The few I’ve spoken with personally are feeling under attack. Mr Justice Cameron, himself HIV-positive, feels their pain. Brett writes:

Earlier this year, a court in Hamilton, Ontario became the first in the world to convict a man of murder for failing to disclose his HIV-positive status to his sexual partners, two of whom later died of AIDS. Since then, criminal prosecutions have increased and the degree of charges being laid has been elevated.In some cases, Toronto police have even issued “public safety alerts” with names and photographs of HIV-positive people who allegedly failed to disclose their status, asking their sexual partners to come forward. Cameron likened this practice to a proposal by a Swaziland parliamentarian to brand people with HIV/AIDS on the buttocks.

An article published on Tuesday in Xtra.ca, entitled Attempted murder the new aggravated assault? eloquently highlights the impact this culture of fear is having in Toronto.

Rita Shahin, associate medical officer for Toronto Public Health, says that public health can be required by law to tell police if a particular individual has tested positive for HIV.

“When the police get a complaint in front of them then they will come to us with a search warrant and if we have a file on somebody then we have to produce it,” says Shahin.

However individuals who have been tested anonymously — through the Hassle Free Clinic’s anonymous HIV-testing program, for example — will not show up in public health’s records.

Although Shahin says public health hasn’t yet seen a decrease in the number of people getting tested as a result of the recent charges laid, “it’s definitely creating a lot of anxiety and especially for those people who are behaving responsibly it’s [a question of] how do they protect themselves? How do they prove that they’ve disclosed to someone?”

[Angel] Parks [coordinator of the AIDS Committee of Toronto’s Positive Youth Outreach programme] says she’s also hearing from people living with HIV/AIDS (PWAs) who are afraid that they’ll be charged even though they’ve disclosed.

“With any other criminal charge it’s always relied upon for having forensic-type evidence and these cases seems to only be based on he-said, she-said scenarios,” says Parks.

“Now they’re are even more afraid of what the consequences will be when they do disclose… like what if things fall out in a relationship where disclosure has happened? What can they do to protect themselves to ensure they can provide a credible defence if such an incident did occur?”

Because public health also deals with complaints against individuals for nondisclosure this is a scenario Shahin has seen play out.

“That’s why we have to really investigate the complaint to sort out, is it true? Is there a basis to the complaint or is it a relationship that’s gone sour where somebody’s being vindictive?”

Both Parks and Shahin recommend the recently published HIV Disclosure: a Legal Guide for Gay Men in Ontario, produced by the HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic (Ontario).

“It is meant to target gay, bi and men who have sex with men,” says Parks, “but the information contained in it is applicable really to any person living with HIV…. They talk about how to protect yourself against malicious lies or attacks.”

It’s going to take some time before public opinion catches up with the idea that the Canadian criminal justice system’s approach to HIV nondisclosure is at best flawed, and at worst, severly and negatively impacting on the human rights of people living with HIV, as this comment from a Toronto Star reader (agreed with by 15 others, and disagreed with by only one) suggests:

The carrier should still be charged: If a person with HIV has unprotected sex with another person who doesn’t have HIV and doesn’t inform his or her sexual partner that he or she has HIV, that person should be charged. I think the same would apply to someone who has herpes and doesn’t inform his or her partner that he has it. Just because the unsuspecting sexual partner doesn’t get HIV from the carrier doesn’t mean that the carrier shouldn’t be charged. It would be like saying that if you go into a bank to rob it and you are carrying a gun but don’t use the gun, you shouldn’t be charged with bank robbery. That doesn’t make sense.

No, actually, its the gun analogy that makes no sense. Or is it the case that people with HIV are now thought of in Canada not just vectors of transmission but actually walking deadly weapons? It seems that when it comes to HIV-positive people, attitudes in ‘conservative’ Texas and ‘liberal’ Ontario are exactly the same.

US: Judge gives HIV-positive pregnant woman longer prison sentence ‘to protect unborn child’ (updated)

A judge in Maine has more than doubled the prison sentence of an HIV-positive woman in order to protect her unborn child, according to a report from The Bangor Daily News. The judge admits he based the decision entirely on the woman’s HIV status.

The 28 year-old woman, from Cameroon, had previously pleaded guilty for having fake documents. She was not legally entitled to be in the United States and was planning to seek asylum. The case has now been taken up by the Maine Civil Liberties Union.

Both prosecution and defence had asked U.S. District Judge John Woodcock to sentence the woman to 114 days, or time served (she has been in custody since January 21st). However, citing the welfare of the woman’s unborn child, the judge sentenced her to 238 days (to coincide with her due date of August 29th).

Woodcock told [the woman] at her sentencing on May 14 in U.S. District Court that he was not imposing the longer prison term to punish her further but to protect her unborn child. He said that the defendant was more likely to receive medical treatment and follow a drug regimen in federal prison than out on her own or in the custody of immigration officials. The judge also said that his decision was based entirely on her HIV status. If Tuleh were pregnant but not infected with the AIDS virus, he would have sentenced her to time served.

[…]

In sentencing Tuleh, Woodcock said that the law required he take into account a defendant’s medical condition in fashioning a sentence. Although a defendant’s medical condition most often is used to lower a sentence, the judge found that there was nothing in the federal sentencing guidelines to prevent him from imposing a sentence longer than the guidelines recommended because of Tuleh’s HIV status.

“My obligation is to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant,” he said at Tuleh’s sentencing, “and that public, it seems to me at this point, should likely include that child she’s carrying. I don’t think that the transfer of HIV to an unborn child is a crime technically under the law, but it is as direct and as likely as an ongoing assault.

“If I had — if I were to know conclusively that upon release from imprisonment a defendant was going to assault another person,” Woodcock said, “I would act in a fashion to prevent that, and similar to an assault, causing grievous injury to a wholly innocent person. And so I think I have the obligation to do what I can to protect that person, when that person is born, from permanent and ongoing harm.”

The Maine Civil Liberties Union told The Bangor Daily News.

“We are enormously sympathetic to the desire to ensure that Ms. Tuleh receives adequate health care, including prenatal care,” Zachary Heiden, legal director for the MCLU, said in an e-mail. “Federal immigration law has developed in truly arbitrary and punitive ways. Here, even a federal judge could not get assurances that Ms. Tuleh would not be deported before the end of her pregnancy. He could not get assurances she would not have her medical care arbitrarily cut off. That is wrong.

“Judges cannot lock a woman up simply because she is sick and pregnant,” he said. “Judges have enormous discretion in imposing sentences, and that is appropriate. But jailing someone is punishment — it is depriving them of liberty. That deprivation has to be justified, and illness or pregnancy is not justification for imprisonment.”

The sentence was objected to primarily by the prosecution, however.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Lowell objected to Woodcock’s decision. Lowell said Tuleh’s sentence set a precedent that “could affect the many other sorts of cases that come before this court in which defendants have serious medical conditions. In the end, Bureau of Prisons custody is designed to incarcerate,” Lowell told Woodcock at the sentencing hearing. “Incarceration is mostly designed for the purpose of punishment, deterrence and community protection. The Bureau of Prisons is not well-designed to accomplish necessarily the end of providing medical care to a defendant and her unborn child.”

The US Attorney’s office has appealed the sentence to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, but arguments will not be heard until late July. The MCLU is also planning on submitting amicus curiae briefs on the issues of HIV, pregnancy, immigration law, and prisoner rights.

Update: June 18th The woman will now give birth in hospital rather than prison after Judge Woodcock heard new evidence that she will be looked after in the community, according to a report in The Bangor Daily News.

“I recognize that the sentence turned out to be controversial,” he said. “I can certainly understand how some have misinterpreted what the court intended to do in this case.”

Woodcock said that what he had wanted to do was “to step in between the prison system and the social [safety] net” to ensure that Tuleh remained healthy and that the child was born healthy.

“At the time of the sentencing, I had no clear understanding of what the community could do,” Woodcock said.

[…]

A three-judge panel in Boston has agreed to hear the appeal on an expedited schedule, but oral arguments are not expected to be held until late July and early August. In addition to appeals filed by the prosecution and the defense, a group of 15 individuals and organizations have filed in Bangor and Boston a “friend of the court” brief in support of Tuleh.

Woodcock said Monday that he found the brief “articulate and helpful” in making his decision about whether to release Tuleh on bail.

More details at the National Advocates for Pregnant Women site here

Click here to see the results of the paper’s poll asking whether a judge should be able to impose a longer sentence in order to protect an inmate’s unborn child?