Important new resource, SALC’s HIV Criminalisation Defence Case Compendium, published this week

An important new resource for lawyers defending clients and working on strategic litigation was published by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) this week. SALC is one of the newest members of HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE Steering Committee.

The HIV Criminalisation Defence Case Compendium was developed to accompany a four-day training for lawyers on HIV and TB criminalisation, due to take place in Johannesburg, South Africa, later this month.

The Compendium aims to provide lawyers with a tool to successfully defend people living with HIV who are being prosecuted for alleged HIV non-disclosure, exposure, or transmission. It catalogues and analyses criminal cases from across the world where “strong defence arguments have resulted in an acquittal or reduced penalty”.

Cases range from prosecutions for spitting or biting to the landmark 2016 Malawi case of a woman successfully released on appeal after having been sentenced for breastfeeding.

To find pertinent cases quickly and effectively, the Compendium is split into three parts:

  • The first section outlines the key issues raised in the judgement, such as proof of intent, and classifies the cases accordingly in an easy to navigate table format.
  • The second section, organised by country, catalogues the categories of argument raised by the defence.
  • The third section summarises the facts of each case and the Court decisions, highlighting the key points.

The Lawyers for HIV and TB Justice: Strategic Litigation, Legal Defence and Advocacy Training will be streamed live on The Southern Africa Litigation Centre Facebook Page between 20-22 February.

The Compendium can be downloaded from the SALC website and is included as the newest resource in the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE toolkit.

 

US: Ohio Supreme Court rules to to uphold its HIV criminalisation laws

Ohio Supreme Court Rules to Uphold Outdated and Unscientific HIV Criminalization Policies

COLUMBUS, OH—Today the Ohio Supreme Court ruled to continue the criminalization of individuals living with HIV. The ACLU of Ohio, The Center for HIV Law and Policy (“CHLP”), and nine other LGBTQ, HIV, medical and legal defense organizations, with assistance from the law firm Gibbons, P.C. and attorney Jeff Gamso, were amici in State of Ohio v. Batista, a case challenging Ohio Revised Code 2903.11(B)(1). Under this law, it is felonious assault – a second-degree felony – for a person who knows they are HIV positive to have sex without first disclosing their status to their sex partner.

“It makes no sense – medically or legally – to single out HIV for criminalization,” said Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney at the ACLU of Ohio. “This law allows the state of Ohio to enter someone’s most intimate space, and control their bodies and their self-expression, based on who they are. What’s more, evidence shows us that laws like these do more damage to our communities—they don’t protect anyone.”

Laws that criminalize HIV are outdated, and ignore the scientific advances that have transformed the disease and those who are diagnosed. “We cannot allow the fears and confusion of the past to guide our current policy on HIV,” added Bonham. Ohio also has other HIV criminalization laws that attach harsher criminal penalties to some acts that carry no risk of transmitting HIV.

“This law, like all those that criminalize HIV, does not consider the actual risks of HIV transmission, how transmission occurs, or whether a person intends to transmit the virus,” said Mayo Schreiber, Deputy Director of the CHLP. Schreiber further noted “These laws do nothing to reduce HIV transmission.  They neither foster behavior that mitigates the risk of transmission nor promote healthy sexual practices.”

“This decision by the Ohio Supreme Court furthers a stigma that should be relegated to history books. We will continue to work with people living with HIV and AIDS to end laws like these,” concluded Bonham.

US: Full text of Florida Supreme Court ruling on "sexual intercourse" and its HIV disclosure law

Conclusion

The term “sexual intercourse” in section 384.24(2) encompasses conduct beyond heterosexual penile-vaginal intercourse.We therefore approve the Third District’s decision in
Debaun and disapprove the Second District’s decision in L.A.P. to the extent that it conflicts with this opinion.

US: Please help raise $20,000 to support Michael Johnson's appeal.

Justice for Michael L. Johnson

Michael L. Johnson now sits in prison under a law that hurts many and helps no one. With your help, he could be free in a matter of months.

Everyone ought to have the right to a fair trial. A toxic mix of racial bias, homophobia and income inequality made that impossible for Michael L. Johnson. With your help, he may have another chance at justice.

In the fall of 2013, Michael Johnson was living his dream. He was a student-athlete at Lindenwood University where he was a respected collegiate wrestler. He aspired to one day compete in the Olympics. But Michael’s dreams were shattered in October 2013, when he was arrested for being a sexually active black gay man living with HIV. In May 2015, under the unfair and unjust HIV criminalization laws in the state of Missouri, Michael was found guilty and sentenced to 30 ½ years.

Remarkably, in December 2016, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, reversed his conviction based on the prosecution’s failure to turn over important evidence in a timely fashion. But Michael is not out of the woods yet. In order for Michael to have a chance to get his life back, he needs the best legal counsel available at the new trial that will take place sometime soon. This is where your help Is needed.

Michael urgently needs an attorney that can defend him and give him a shot at true justice. In order to give Michael that chance, we need to raise $20,000 in 20 days. This money will be used to hire a private attorney that has the experience, background, and passion to help Michael fight the HIV criminalization laws in Missouri.

A new trial date has not yet been set – but time is of the essence! Michael needs experienced counsel immediately.

Any amount of money will help – if we all pull together, we can reach this goal and give Michael Johnson a new lease on life. Please share his story and help support his quest for freedom.

———————————————————————————————————

We are advocates, organizers, and community members committed to working toward the freedom of Michael L. Johnson, a young black gay student, respected college athlete, and aspiring olympic wrestler before he was arrested under Missouri’s unjust HIV criminalization law.

Malawi: Zomba High Court in Malawi delivers landmark ruling on the application of criminal law to cases of HIV transmission and exposure

NEWS RELEASE: Malawi High Court affirms Human Right Approach to Criminalisation of  HIV Transmission and Exposure 

1 February, 2017

Zomba–On 19 January 2017, the Zomba High Court in Malawi delivered a landmark ruling on the application of criminal law to cases of HIV transmission and exposure.

The appellant is a woman living with HIV who was convicted of negligently and recklessly doing an act which is “likely to spread the infection of any disease which is dangerous to life” under section 192 of the Malawi Penal Code for accidentally breastfeeding another person’s child. She was unrepresented at her trial and sentenced to 9 months’ imprisonment.

Before the High Court, she appealed her conviction and sentence and challenged the constitutionality of section 192 of the Penal Code for being vague and overbroad. She raised expert evidence to show the “infinitesimally small risk” of HIV transmission by women on antiretroviral treatment through breastfeeding. The State agreed that the appellant’s conviction and sentence should be overturned and set aside.

At the hearing on 2 December 2016, the Court, per Ntaba J, granted an order that the appellant’s identity be concealed to protect her confidentiality and that of the children concerned. On 19 January 2017, the High Court acquitted the appellant and ordered her immediate release. It held that the proceedings in the trial court were irregular and “blatantly bias” against the appellant, compromising her right to a fair trial.The Court held that the appellant did not have the requisite knowledge or belief that breastfeeding the complainant’s child was likely to spread HIV and cautioned against the misapplication of criminal law in cases of HIV transmission and exposure. The Court recommended the constitutional challenge be filed for separate determination considering the national interest in the issue.

Ms Clara Banya of ICW, Malawi said, “Breastfeeding is not a crime. Breastfeeding is recommended for women living with HIV who are on antiretroviral treatment by the World Health Organisation and in terms of the Ministry of Health’s Guidelines.”

“This case highlights ongoing discrimination against people living with HIV and illustrates the struggles faced by women living with HIV. There is need for communities to understand facts about HIV transmission and exposure,” said Ms Edna Tembo, the Executive Director of the Coalition of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (COWLHA).

“This case sets important precedent regionally on the misapplication of the criminal law in cases of HIV exposure, transmission and non-disclosure. The Court cautioned against the trend of crafting specific offences to deal with HIV, and affirmed the importance of respecting the rights to privacy, dignity and due process of people living with HIV,” said Annabel Raw, Health Rights Lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which supported the appeal.

“We commend the acquittal of the appellant and the affirmation by the court that the application of criminal law in cases of HIV transmission and exposure should be primarily protective of people living with HIV from ‘the unjust consequences of public panic.’ Laws relating to the criminalisation of HIV transmission, exposure and/or non-disclosure in the southern and east African region are often overly broad and vague, violate criminal law principles, trump human rights and are based on myths and misconceptions about HIV and its modes of transmission, thus undermining effective public health,” said Michaela Clayton, Director of the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), who acted as an expert witness for the appellant.

The appellant was represented by Mr Wesley Mwafulirwa of John Tennyson Associates.

NOTE TO PRESS ON PARTIES’ ANONYMITY

The Zomba High Court has issued an order that the names and personal details of the appellant, the complainant and their respective children be anonymised and protected from public disclosure. While press may report on the case, the Court warned that any use of the names or information that may identify the appellant, complainant or children would be a violation of the Court order and subject to contempt of court proceedings.

In granting this order, the Court took judicial note of the fact that the stigma and discrimination attached to HIV continues to be a challenge for people living with and affected by HIV.

 For more information:

Annabel Raw (Health Rights Lawyer, SALC): Email: AnnabelR@salc.org.za; t: +27 (0)10 596 8538

Clara Banya (ICW, Malawi):    Email: clarabanya@yahoo.com; t: +265 995 885 522/+265 888 898858

For background on the case and copies of the Court order and judgment: http://www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org/malawi-challenging-the-criminalisation-of-breastfeeding-by-women-living-with-hiv/

Canada: Ontario Court of Appeal rules that HIV disclosure by police in news releases does not violate a person's constitutional rights

Court ruling sets ‘low bar’ for police to disclose HIV status

Ontario Court of Appeal finds police didn’t violate suspect’s Charter rights by disclosing health status in news release

If a person charged with a crime is found to be HIV-positive, that could be enough for police to disclose that very personal and sensitive information to the public.

That’s one takeaway from an Ontario Court of Appeal decision that advocates say is cause for concern for those living with HIV or AIDS, which continue to attract stigma and misunderstanding despite evolving science.

The province’s top court overturned a lower court decision last week, ruling that that Durham Regional Police did not breach former youth pastor Kris Gowdy’s constitutional rights following his 2012 arrest for Internet child luring when they disclosed in a news release that he was HIV-positive.

Gowdy was arrested after arriving at the home of someone who had been posing as a 15-year-old boy online, to perform oral sex, only to discover the individual was a police officer. Police searched his car and discovered documentation and medication proving he was HIV-positive. The arrest and Gowdy’s HIV status were widely reported on at the time, making international headlines.

Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Justice David Watt said the police force’s actions in disclosing Gowdy’s HIV status were “clearly in retrospect not advisable.”

But the judges held that the release of that information did not violate Gowdy’s right to security of the person because there had been no finding at trial that the disclosure had a psychological effect on Gowdy beyond the impact already caused by the charge he was facing.

They also concluded that provincial privacy legislation contains an exemption for municipal institutions to release personal information that they have lawfully gathered if it is for a “consistent purpose.”

In this case, Watt said that the “consistent purpose” was to further the investigation “by inviting responses from other sexual partners of Gowdy” who may be at risk of transmission.

“The police had reasonable suspicion; reasonable grounds to believe further offences had been committed was not required for the purpose of the media release,” Watt said.

The court dismissed Gowdy’s appeal of the conviction, but allowed the Crown’s appeal. The court substituted Gowdy’s two-year conditional sentence, which he served at home, with a one-year jail term, although it said he should not be re-arrested because he had already served his sentence.

As noted by the Court of Appeal, the lead investigator in the case did not seek legal advice or the permission of the police chief or his designate before issuing the news release, did not seek medical advice to find out the likelihood of transmission of the virus through a sexual activity such as fellatio, and did not seek to confirm Gowdy’s assertion that his medication had rendered his viral load so low that it made transmission unlikely.

Gowdy also never admitted in his interview with police that he had had sexual contact with individuals who were unaware of his HIV status, the court said.

“The lead investigator testified that, to his knowledge, he had never before investigated someone with HIV in his 23 years of policing,” Watt wrote. “The investigating officer acknowledged he did not consider the Charter rights of Kris Gowdy before requesting the media release.”

Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, one of the interveners in the appeal, said in an interview with the Star that police should have turned their minds to what the actual risks of transmission may have been in this case.

“I can’t think what that ‘reasonable suspicion’ is actually founded on. I don’t think the suspicion is a reasonable one, all the information the officer had was that this accused was HIV-positive,” Elliott said.

“This is a case in which merely finding out someone has HIV was seen by police as sufficient for putting out a press release, basically engaging in a fishing expedition.”

He also described the court’s interpretation of the “consistent purpose” exemption as “very, very liberal,” saying it sets an “extraordinarily low bar” that police have to clear before releasing a person’s HIV status.

The case highlights what advocates say is a lack of proper training for officers in dealing with HIV-positive individuals and the absence of clear statutes governing the disclosure of such information by police.

Durham police spokesman Dave Selby declined to comment on the court’s decision.

“In general, I can say that we regularly review our policies to ensure they are consistent with all applicable laws and judicial decisions. We will review this decision carefully, as well,” he said in an email. “We will continue to respect the fundamental privacy rights of all citizens while balancing our community safety responsibilities.”

Gowdy’s appeal lawyer, Russell Silverstein, said his client is considering whether to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

“When it comes to one’s HIV status, different considerations apply, it’s not the same as telling the world that the accused is suffering from cancer or some other disease,” he told the Star.

“You can’t say that the release of such information is per se a Charter breach, it’s going to depend on the circumstances, and the question is: what should the appropriate test be for the disclosure of that particular information?”

A former pastor with the Free Methodist Church of Canada, Gowdy posted an ad on Craigslist in 2012 looking for men interested in receiving oral sex, specifying he was looking for “under 35, jocks, college guys, skaters, young married guy.”

A detective with the OPP’s Child Sexual Exploitation Section homed in on the use of the words “young,” “skater,” and “under 35” in Gowdy’s ad, and began an online conversation with him, posing as a 15-year-old boy.

Shortly after agreeing to meet the “boy” for oral sex, Gowdy was arrested. He maintained in court that he never actually believed the person he was conversing with was 15 years old.

Gowdy, a former pastor with the Free Methodist Church of Canada, had kept his sexual orientation secret from his family and church, his 2014 trial heard. He had no prior criminal record and there were no complaints about inappropriate behaviour from the ministries where he had worked as a pastor.

“I regret incredibly my actions, they were foolish and inappropriate,” Gowdy told the Star in an interview in 2014. “It feels to me like there should be some kind of reprimand to these officers at the minimum.”

At trial, Justice Michael Block found that the release of Gowdy’s HIV status violated his constitutional rights. He circumvented the mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail for the luring offence, and instead imposed a two-year conditional sentence, which Gowdy served at home. Gowdy’s name was to remain on the sexual offender registry for 20 years.

“Mr. Gowdy had a right to make his own choices concerning the disclosure of his HIV status,” Block said. “No doubt he would have chosen his own method and different timing if he ever determined to inform those near to him. Absent evidence of serious risk of transmission and rigorous compliance with statute, no one had the authority to make that decision for him.”

Russia: European Court of Human Rights rules that Russia must compensate a Ukrainian woman deported based on her HIV status

English version – Translation (For Russian version, please scroll down)

European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled Russia to pay 15,000 euros compensation to a Ukrainian citizen for her family separation due to her HIV status.

Lawyer Irina Khrunova, representing the interests of the applicant, stated that the court found Russia was guilty of violating the right to respect for family life and of excessive interference in a person’s private life.

Khrunova said her client had lived in Russia since the early 2000s and met her future husband there. When in 2012 a woman was traveling from Ukraine to Sochi, the border officers did not let her into the country, citing the ruling of Rospotrebnadzor came into effect on undesirability of stay HIV-positive non-citizens in Russia.

The Ukrainian’s appeal against this decision had failed in Russian courts.

Европейский суд по правам человека (ЕСПЧ) обязал Россию выплатить 15 тысяч евро компенсации гражданке Украины, разлученной с семьей из-за ВИЧ.

Адвокат Ирина Хрунова, представляющая интересы заявительницы, сообщила, что суд признал правительство России виновным в нарушении статьи об уважении семейной жизни и излишнем вмешательстве в личную жизнь человека.

Хрунова рассказала, что ее подзащитная жила в России с начала 2000-х годов и познакомилась здесь со своим будущим мужем. Когда в 2012 году женщина ехала из Украины в Сочи, пограничники не пустили ее в страну, сославшись на вступившее в силу постановление Роспотребнадзора о нежелательности пребывания в России ВИЧ-положительных неграждан.

Обжаловать это решение в российских судах украинке не удалось.

Originally published in Radio Svoboda

BEYOND BLAME
Challenging HIV Criminalisation @ AIDS 2016, Durban

(29 min, HJN, South Africa, 2016)

On 17 July 2016, approximately 150 advocates, activists, researchers, and community leaders met in Durban, South Africa, for Beyond Blame: Challenging HIV Criminalisation – a full-day pre-conference meeting preceding the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) to discuss progress on the global effort to combat the unjust use of the criminal law against people living with HIV.

Attendees at the convening hailed from at least 36 countries on six continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, and South America).

Beyond Blame was convened by HIV Justice Worldwide, an initiative made up of global, regional, and national civil society organisations – most of them led by people living with HIV – who are working together to build a worldwide movement to end HIV criminalisation.

The meeting was opened by the Honourable Dr Patrick Herminie, Speaker of Parliament of the Seychelles, and closed by Justice Edwin Cameron, both of whom gave powerful, inspiring speeches. In between the two addresses, moderated panels and more intimate, focused breakout sessions catalysed passionate and illuminating conversations amongst dedicated, knowledgeable advocates

Australia: Zaburoni v Queen legal analysis

This analysis is by David Buchanan SC, Barrister at Forbes Chambers, Sydney. It was originally published in LGBT Law Notes and is republished here with his permission.

In a case that should reduce the extent of overcharging in HIV criminal cases, the High Court of Australia (Australia’s apex court) has emphasised the importance of distinguishing between reckless behaviour and behaviour involving intention to transmit HIV.

In Zaburoni v The Queen [2016] HCA 12, a man was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for unlawfully transmitting a serious diseases with intent to do so.  The evidence was that Zaburoni frequently had unprotected sex with his girlfriend, knowing that he had HIV, and that he lied to her, and later to investigating police, about his status.  However, the offence required proof of actual intention.  The High Court held that, if the evidence had established Zaburoni’s awareness of the probability that his conduct would result in his girlfriend contracting HIV, it would have been open to the jury to infer that Zaburoni meant to bring about that result.  However, the evidence did not rise to that level.

The Court distinguished between intention, on the one hand, and desire or motive, noting that a person can intend a result without desiring it.  Thus a person can have the infection of their sex partner as a purpose of their conduct whilst regretting that consequence.  The plurality observed “(t)he complainant said the appellant preferred unprotected sexual intercourse because it was more pleasurable.  Accepting that the appellant engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse because it gave him pleasure is not necessarily inconsistent with proof that he also had the intention thereby of transmitting HIV to the complainant.   It is the identification of evidence from which the latter inference could be drawn to the criminal standard that is the issue in this appeal.”

Zaburoni had tested positive to HIV and been told he must use condoms for sex.  The evidence was that he understood that advice.  But when he took up a relationship with a woman he told her he had been tested for HIV and was not HIV positive.  He had unprotected intercourse with her, telling her that he found condomless sex more pleasurable.  The complainant suffered seroconversion illness.  Zaburoni told her his brother had died from AIDS.  When the woman asked Zaburoni whether he had HIV, he said he did not.

The relationship later broke down.  About a year afterwards, the woman was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and when she tackled Zaburoni about it, he admitted he was infected and said he found out after they had broken up.  She asked why he had failed to tell her of his condition.  He replied that he had not wanted to make her unhappy and that he thought that she was having a good time.  He said that he had been told by the doctors that he had had HIV for two years.  A friend of the complainant asked Zaburoni why he had not told the complainant and he responded that “I didn’t want to ruin her life”.

Later, in both a conversation with the complainant monitored by police and in interviews with police, Zaburoni lied about when he knew he was infected and the extent of his unprotected sex with the complainant.  Later Zaburoni, who had migrated to Australia many years previously, admitted having submitted a blood sample from an uninfected friend in order to satisfy Immigration authorities that he did not have HIV.

Although there was evidence that, given the length of the relationship (21 months), the risk of the complainant contracting HIV were about 14 per cent, there was no evidence that Zaburoni knew what the statistical likelihood was of the transmission of HIV as the result of unprotected heterosexual sex.  The plurality said “To the extent that the inference of intent depends upon foresight of the risk of the sexual transmission of HIV, it is the appellant’s understanding, whether informed or otherwise, that is material.  There was ample evidence from which to find that the appellant was aware of the risk of transmitting HIV to the complainant through unprotected sexual intercourse.  Apart from the medical advice that the appellant was given by several doctors in 1998 after he learned of his HIV positive status, his lies to the complainant about that status before their sexual relationship commenced, and during the course of it, point to his awareness of the risk of sexual transmission.  So, too, do his lies to the police about the number of times they engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse.”

The plurality concluded that “(a) rational inference open on the evidence is that the appellant engaged in regular unprotected sexual intercourse with the complainant because it enhanced his sexual pleasure and he was reckless of the risk of transmitting HIV to her.   The existence of that inference lessens the force of reasoning to a conclusion that the appellant intended to transmit the disease from the fact of frequent unprotected sexual intercourse.   Apart from frequent unprotected sexual intercourse, there is no evidence to support the inference that the appellant had that intention.  And the evidence fell well short of proving that the appellant believed that it was virtually certain that he would pass on HIV by regular unprotected sexual intercourse.”   In particular, none of the lies proved that Zaburoni knew that it was virtually certain that he would infect his partner with HIV if he had unprotected sex with her.

Whilst Zaburoni’s conduct was described as a form of “callous deception”, what this meant (as another judge put it) was that the evidence left open “a reasonable hypothesis that the appellant, not knowing the degree of risk, was extremely reckless and also callous.  As appalling as his selfish recklessness was, it cannot be equated with a subjective, actual intent to transmit the HIV virus.  In the absence of evidence of malice or knowledge of the degree of risk, a subjective intent to inflict the HIV virus was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.”

The conviction for intentionally transmitting a serious disease was quashed and a verdict of guilty of unlawfully doing grievous bodily harm substituted.

The full High Court decision can be accessed here.

A number of news reports and other analyses of the Zaburoni case can be found here.