US: Medical, HIV and LGBT Groups Challenge Validity of Missouri’s Draconian Criminal HIV Law In Michael Johnson Appeal

Friend of the Court Brief Maintains HIV Law Violates the Americans With Disabilities Act and Constitutional Protections Against Irrational Treatment of HIV

New York NY, April 20, 2016 – The Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP), a national leader on HIV policy development, today announced the filing of a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Michael Johnson, a former Missouri college student sentenced to more than 30 years for violating Missouri’s HIV transmission and exposure statute.

The brief argues that Missouri’s criminal HIV law is irrational and at odds with federal law that prohibits singling out a group of people for uniquely punitive treatment based on their identity or health status. Twenty-two national and state organizations joined CHLP on the brief, including the American Academy of HIV Medicine, Human Rights Campaign, Center for Constitutional Rights, Missouri AIDS Task Force and Empower Missouri.

“It is an honor to be part of this effort and to take a stand against a law that is at odds with everything we know about HIV today – how to encourage people to get tested, how to treat it, how it is transmitted, and how to prevent transmission from happening,” said Terrance Moore of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors. Mayo Schreiber, CHLP’s Deputy Director and lead on the case, added, “It is hard to believe that laws like this still exist, and that a young person can get the equivalent of a life sentence, as they would for first or second degree murder in Missouri, for a conviction of unintentionally transmitting and exposing willing sexual partners to HIV. When properly treated, HIV is a manageable medical condition that allows for a long life expectancy.”

The organizations submitting the amicus brief on behalf of Michael Johnson are:

AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania

American Academy of HIV Medicine

American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation

Athlete Ally

Black AIDS Institute

Center for Constitutional Rights

Center for HIV Law and Policy

Counter Narrative Project

Dr. Jeffrey Birnbaum

Empower Missouri

GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders

GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality

Grace

Human Rights Campaign

Missouri AIDS Task Force

National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors

National Black Justice Coalition

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National LGBTQ Task Force

One Struggle KC

Treatment Action Group

William Way LGBT Community Center

Women With A Vision

Attorneys Avram Frey and Lawence Lustberg of the national law firm, Gibbons P.C., working with Executive Director Catherine Hanssens of CHLP, led the drafting of the brief. Anthony Rothert of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation is serving as local counsel.

To view the brief online, visit: http://hivlawandpolicy.org/resources/state-missouri-v-michael-l-johnson-amicus-brief-missouri-court-appeals-aids-law-project

Australia: Queensland people living with HIV organisation, QPP, issues position statement on HIV criminalisation (press release)

Queensland Positive People (QPP) is a peer-based advocacy organisation which is committed to actively promoting self-determination and empowerment for all people living with HIV (PLHIV) throughout Queensland.

Below is their press release issued on 6 April 2016 in the light of the recent High Court ruling related to intent in HIV transmission cases.

Position Statement

The criminal law is an ineffective and inappropriate tool to address HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission. International best practice acknowledges that public health frameworks are best placed to encourage a shared responsibility for HIV transmission, and public health interventions seek to effect change in risk-taking behaviour among those who have difficulty taking appropriate precautions to prevent the transmission of HIV.

Urgent legal review of State and National guidelines for determining if an individual poses a reckless risk of HIV transmission is required following the scientific acceptance that PLHIV on treatment with an undetectable viral load pose a negligible risk of transmitting HIV via sexual intercourse. Despite scientific consensus on this issue, Australian criminal law has failed to acknowledge the contemporary science of HIV transmission and instead relies on incorrect, out of date and stigmatising perspectives of HIV that do not acknowledge that with proper adherence to HIV medication, it is a manageable chronic illness with a full life expectancy.

To explain why Australian criminal law lags behind United Nation recommendations and criminalises HIV transmission, Cipri Martinez, President of the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) states “stigma, fear and discriminatory perceptions of HIV influence the decision to proceed with criminal charges– a statement clearly evidenced by a lack of criminal prosecution or media attention regarding the transmission of other notifiable conditions such as syphilis or hepatitis.” HIV is treatable, but criminal charges perpetuate the inaccurate position that HIV is still a death sentence and therefore deserving of a severe punishment.

Current Status

A decision has been handed down in the High Court regarding a Queensland criminal HIV transmission case.

Whilst inappropriate to comment on the specifics of the case, the NAPWHA and Queensland Positive People (QPP) highlight that the trying of HIV transmission through the courts is a complex and fraught issue.

The overly broad use of the criminal law has far reaching negative impacts upon the HIV response. In line with UNAIDS guidance, NAPWHA and QPP urge that any application of the criminal law in the context of HIV must not undermine public health objectives.

Cipri Martinez states that “The use of the criminal law in responding to HIV transmission has been widely regarded as a blunt and ineffective tool with adverse implications for public health. In line with the recommendations of the UN Global Commission on HIV and the Law, the criminal law should only be reserved for cases where an individual exhibits clear malicious intent to transmit HIV with the purpose of causing harm.”

“There are alternatives to the criminal justice system to address HIV transmission or allegations that a person living with HIV is placing other people at risk of HIV, such as public health legislation” Martinez said.

Public health interventions are intended to prioritise education; support behaviour change; provide management as required; and actively utilise affected communities as a far more effective alternative to punitive and stigmatising legal sanctions.

NAPWHA and QPP support HIV prevention strategies being driven by an evidence-based, best practice model of public health interventions.

Criminalising HIV transmission sends unbalanced messages about the shared responsibility for prevention, creates disincentives for people to get tested and does, in fact, discourage disclosure of HIV status. These outcomes undermine prevention efforts and actually increase the risk of further HIV transmission.

Criminalising transmission does not acknowledge the complex factors that may impact an individual’s ability to disclose status or take the necessary precautions to prevent HIV transmission.

QPP President, Mark Counter agrees with NAPWHA’s position, saying “Public health interventions acknowledge the complex factors unique to each case, such as power imbalances, impairment, discrimination or other social determinants of health that may confuse or limit an individual’s ability to prevent transmission.”

National and State HIV strategies have identified the shared goals of achieving virtual elimination of HIV transmission in Australia by 2020.

“We are all working towards the shared goal of reducing HIV transmissions. The only way we are going to achieve this goal is by continuing to implement evidence-based human rights responses to HIV. These responses include educating the public about HIV and empowering people to avoid transmission or live successfully with HIV. The broad use of the criminal law does not help us achieve these goals” Counter says.

We need to be expanding programs which have been proven to reduce HIV transmission whilst protecting the human rights of people living with HIV and those who are HIV negative. Further, we need to encourage and empower people living with an unknown status to get tested and to ensure HIV prevention services are available to all that need them.

One of the unfortunate side effects of criminal prosecutions is the misinformed and stigmatising media that can accompany the reporting of these cases.

“We call on media outlets to appropriately report on HIV transmission cases with facts and not fear. Inaccurate statements not only undermine our efforts to educate the public about HIV, but also create an environment of fear for people living with HIV or people thinking about testing. It is vital that we encourage people to test – not discourage or frighten them from testing” Counter said.

For assistance in reporting appropriately on HIV, journalists should refer to the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations HIV Media Guide.

US: Missouri Supreme Court upholds overly broad HIV non-disclosure law following second constitutional challenge

The Missouri Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of a woman (known as ‘S.F.’) who did not tell her sexual partner that she was living with HIV before engaging in sex.

At her original trial she was found guilty of exposing another to HIV under Mo. Rev. Stat. §191.677 and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment.  The law does not require actual transmission or even actual exposure, and there is no condom use or viral load defence.

Yesterday, the Court issued an unanimous opinion written by Judge Mary Russell (pictured) dismissing the woman’s challenge which argued that the law infringes on her right to privacy and to free speech.

The Court opined that

Although the statute may compel individuals with HIV to disclose this information under certain circumstances, the burden on speech is incidental to the conduct the statute seeks to prohibit and does not violate constitutional provisions protecting the freedom of speech. Furthermore, the right to privacy does not permit Defendant to expose others to HIV in the course of sexual activities without first securing their knowing consent to such exposure.

The full judgement can be downloaded from the Missouri Supreme Court website.

This is the second time that Missouri statute has been unsuccessfully challenged on constitutional grounds.

In State v. Mahan (971 S.W.2d,Mo. 1998), the Missouri Supreme Court consolidated the appeals of two men who were convicted under the Missouri statute for failing to inform their sexual partners that they were HIV-positive. One of the men, Sykes, was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for having sex with two women, including his live-in girlfriend, and failing to disclose his HIV status. The other man, Mahan, was sentenced to five years imprisonment for failing to tell his sexual partner that he was HIV-positive.

The appellants argued that the statute was overly broad and criminalized behavior such as an HIV-positive mother giving birth to her child. The court held that the appellants lacked standing on this matter because their behavior directly fell within the language of the statute and, as such, they could not challenge hypothetical scenarios that were not reflective of their behavior. The appeal by one of the defendants, Mahan, also argued that the statute was overly vague, as the phrase “grave and unjustifiable risk” did not provide enough notice as to what acts can be prohibited under the statute.

Specifically, Mahan reasoned that because the risk of transmitting HIV was not quantitatively known to scientists, a person would have no way of knowing when one’s conduct would rise to a “grave and unjustifiable risk.” The court found because Mahan was counseled that HIV could be transmitted through unprotected sex, including anal sex, and he continued to have anal sex without disclosing his HIV status, the statute was not vague as applied to him, and he had full notice that his actions could result in the transmission of HIV. The court upheld both of the convictions.

Excerpted from: Positive Justice Project. Ending & Defending Against HIV Criminalization, A  Manual For Advocates: Vol 1 States and Federal Laws and Prosecutions. Center for HIV Law and Policy, New York. Fall 2010 (updated May 2015).

Malawi: High Court rules that mandatory HIV testing is unconstitutional

By Anneke Meerkotter, Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and Ian Southey-Swartz, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)

In 2009, a group of women, presumed to be sex workers, was as part of a police sweeping exercise in Mwanza, Malawi. The women were taken to the Mwanza District Hospital where they were tested for HIV without their knowledge or consent, and in contravention of Malawi’s HIV policy. The women were then taken to the Mwanza Magistrates’ Court where some were charged with and convicted of “spreading venereal disease (HIV)”.

In 2011, eleven of these women filed an application in the Blantyre High Court challenging their subjection to mandatory HIV tests and the public disclosure of their HIV status in open court. The women argued that these actions by government officials violated their constitutional rights. Justice Dorothy nyaKaunda Kamanga handed down judgment on 20 May 2015.

Reading her judgment in court, Justice nyaKaunda Kamanga, said that forced HIV testing amounted to a violation of the applicants’ constitutional rights, including their right to privacy; their right to non-discrimination; their right to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; and their right to dignity. Justice Kamanga went a step further and requested a copy of the criminal court records in order to review the sentence the magistrate imposed on the applicants.

The case is illustrative of how the criminal justice system often impedes on accused persons’ rights to dignity, a fair trial and access to justice. In the present case, the matter was repeatedly delayed, including due to high caseloads and industrial action by judiciary personnel.

The judgment comes in the context of other important developments in Malawi. Civil society activists have increasingly voiced their concerns about the manner in which sex workers are treated by the police. Police often arbitrarily arrest women presumed to be sex workers during sweeping exercises and misguidedly and unlawfully charge them with offences such as being a rogue and vagabond or living off the earnings of prostitution, when there is no evidence of such offences having been committed. Such arrests inevitably involve a range of human rights violations.

The attitudes displayed by police towards alleged sex workers also extend to how some policy-makers view sex workers in Malawi. The HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Management) Bill of 2013, currently prohibits compulsory HIV testing, but allows forced HIV testing for specific groups of people, including commercial sex workers. In contrast, this case highlights the human rights violations caused by mandatory HIV testing and the importance of having legislation which prohibits this. This is an important message at a time when the Malawi government engages in final deliberations on the proposed Bill.

The case shows that it is possible for vulnerable groups to hold the government accountable when their rights have been violated. It is hoped that the judgment, once available, will be used as a resource by other marginalized groups to assert their rights and will contribute to improving constitutional jurisprudence in the region.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces Vacates HIV Aggravated Assault and Reckless Endangerment charges in Case of LTC Kenneth Pinkela (Press Release)

Press Release from The Sero Project

Ken Pinkela serves as a member of Sero’s Advisory Board.

New York, NY April 24, 2015:

The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) has vacated HIV-related Aggravated Assault and Reckless Endangerment charges in a U.S. Army case involving LTC Kenneth Pinkela.

In the official CAAF announcement released on April 22, 2015, the high court said:

That said petition is hereby granted on the following

issue:

WHETHER THE EVIDENCE WAS LEGALLY SUFFICIENT TO FIND BEYOND

A REASONABLE DOUBT THAT APPELLANT COMMITTED AGGRAVATED

ASSAULT AND RECKLESS ENDANGERMENT IN VIOLATION OF ARTICLES

128 AND 134, UCMJ, BY ENGAGING IN UNPROTECTED SEX WHILE

HIV-POSITIVE.

That the decision of the Army Court of Criminal Appeals is

vacated and the record of trial is returned to the Judge

Advocate General of the Army for remand to that court for

reconsideration in light of United States v. Gutierrez, 74

M.J. 61 (C.A.A.F. 2015)

In February of this year, the CAAF ruled that Air Force Technical Sergeant David Gutierrez, who was accused of not disclosing his HIV positive status to sexual partners, was not guilty of Aggravated Assault and reduced charges against him to Assault and Battery. At the time of the alleged sexual contacts, Gutierrez was on antiretroviral medication, had an undetectable viral load and was not accused of transmitting HIV.

The Sero Project, a national network of people living with HIV, applauds the CAAF for its rulings in both the Gutierrez case as well as the more recent ruling in the Pinkela case, but noted the military still is out of step with contemporary science and other arms of the U.S. government.

“While the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Congress, the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies categorize HIV as a chronic manageable illness, military lawyers and military court decisions still explicitly label HIV as a ‘death sentence.’ They can’t have it both ways. While we applaud CAAF’s recent decisions, it is time for the entire Department of Defense to address HIV for the reality it is today, based on science not stigma,” said Sean Strub, Sero’s executive director.

The Sero Project called on the U.S. Army to re-evaluate its prosecution against Pinkela, who also serves as the volunteer director of Sero’s Military Policy Project. “There’s no rational basis for continuing to prosecute Ken,” said Strub.

Pinkela’s military legal counsel has accused the Army of inadequately investigating the charges against Pinkela and of refusing to allow critical evidence to be presented at trial. Pinkela has volunteered to undergo phylogenetic testing, which could prove the complaining witness acquired HIV from another party, but the prosecutors declined to order such a test.

In the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2014, Congress included specific direction to the Secretary of Defense to review and report back to Congress on all HIV- related personnel and disciplinary policies and procedures, to make sure they are consistent with contemporary science. That report has not yet been released.

H.R. 1586: Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal HIV Discrimination Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D–Cal.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–Fla.), seeks to help end the criminalization of HIV by providing guidance to the states and military to modernize their statutes to make them reflect contemporary science and not unduly stigmatize people with HIV.

The Sero Project is a network of people with HIV and allies fighting for freedom from stigma and injustice. Founded in 2012, Sero raises awareness, conducts research and mobilizes grassroots communities, policy leaders and advocates to address HIV criminalization.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces Vacates HIV Aggravated Assault and Reckless Endangerment charges…

Kenya: Detailed analysis of recent High Court ruling on Kenya's HIV-specific law by Annabel Raw, head of Health Rights Programme at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre

On 18 March 2015, in Aids Law Project v Attorney General and Others [2015] the High Court of Kenya declared section 24 of the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act (“Act”) unconstitutional. I applaud the impetus of the decision but I want to argue that the narrow focus of the Court’s judgment reduces its potential to advance rational health policies and laws.

Section 24(1) of the Act requires a person aware of being HIV-positive to “take all reasonable measures and precautions to prevent the transmission of HIV to others” and to “inform, in advance, any sexual contact or persons with whom needles are shared” of their HIV-positive status. Subsection (2) prohibits “knowingly and recklessly, placing another person at risk of becoming infected with HIV”. Contravention of these provisions is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for up to seven years, and/or a fine. Under section 24(7), a medical practitioner who becomes aware of a patient’s HIV-status may inform anyone who has sexual contact with that patient of their HIV-status.

In 2010, the AIDS Law Project sought a declaration that section 24 of the Act was unconstitutional and “unacceptable discrimination” on the basis of health status. It argued that the undefined terms of “inform”, “in advance” and “sexual contact” renders section 24 vague and overbroad, contrary to the principle of legality. It submitted that the provision violates the right to a fair hearing, equality, non-discrimination, and sexual privacy. The petitioner was supported by an amicus curiae, the Centre for Reproductive Rights, which made submissions on the disproportionate impact that the provision would have on women, exacerbating stigma and undermining public health interventions.

In a unanimous judgment of a sitting of three judges of the High Court, Lenaola HJ held that the central issue was the provision’s vagueness and overbreadth. Focussing solely on the absence of a definition for “sexual contact”, the Court held that it is impossible to determine what acts are prohibited. Further, given that section 24 places no obligation on sexual contacts who have been informed of another’s HIV-status to keep that information confidential, the provision does not meet the standards for a justifiable limitation of the constitutional right to privacy.

Similar criminal provisions exist in a number of countries. The Constitutional Court in Zimbabwe is, for example, currently considering the constitutionality of Zimbabwe’s HIV criminalization law. The Kenyan judgment must be applaued to the extent that it emboldens the human rights critique of these laws and compels the Kenyan government to reconsider the provision.

It is disappointing, however, that the privacy violations were constructed so narrowly, with the Court failing to appreciate the risks of criminalizing non-disclosure more broadly, particularly for vulnerable groups, as raised by the amicus. Furthermore, by framing the vagueness and overbreadth ruling so strictly, the inhibiting effects of criminalization on effective public health interventions remain legally unscathed.

Insofar as the courts may be a useful forum to advance health rights and public health, perhaps a better legal foundation would be a rationality review of legislation. In a number of common law jurisdictions, this entails testing conduct or law against the ends that it claims to achieve. The standard typically requires that conduct needs to be rationally connected to a legitimate government interest or purpose in order to be lawful.

As made clear by the Act’s long title, its purpose is to prevent, control and manage HIV and AIDS, promote public health, and deliver appropriate care for persons living with HIV. The criminalization of HIV transmission and non-disclosure has come under heavy criticism by leading international experts and bodies for failing to protect human rights in a way that promotes public health initiatives for the effective treatment and control of HIV. If the argument against criminalization of HIV transmission is found persuasive in court, the legislation should be found irrational because it employs a strategy that is harmful to its purported ends.

It is in this sense that we might consider rationality review when using the courts in similar jurisdictions as fora to insist on public health policies and laws that are founded in scientific evidence and not fear and stigma.

Kenya: High Court declares Section 24 of HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act (2006) unconstitutional, removes overly broad and vague HIV-specific criminal statute

By Kamau Muthoni Kenya: The High Court has declared unconstitutional a section of the HIV and Aids Prevention and Control Act that sought to criminalise reckless spreading of the disease. A three-judge bench comprising justices Mumbi Ngugi, Isaac Lenaola and George Odunga ruled Section 24, introduced by the State and criminalising the reckless spreading of HIV, was unclear and had no limits on which group of people was targeted.

“We so hold that Section 24 of the HIV and Aids Prevention and Control Act No. 14 of 2006 does not meet the principle of legality which is a component of the rule of law. The said section is vague and over-broad, and lacks certainty, especially with respect to the term ‘sexual contact’,” read part of the judgment.
As drafted, the section provided that a person who is aware of being infected with HIV or who is carrying and is aware of carrying HIV shall not, knowingly and recklessly, place another person at risk of becoming infected with HIV unless that other person knows that fact and voluntarily accepts the risk of being infected. Further, the section read that the person shall take all reasonable measures and precautions to prevent the transmission of HIV to others; and inform, in advance, any sexual contact or person with whom needles are shared of that fact, failure to which one would be jailed, if convicted by a court, for a term not exceeding seven years or a fine not exceeding Sh500,000, or both.
Justice Lenaola ruled that the section of law failed to meet the legal requirement that an offence must be clearly defined in law. “To retain that provision in the statute books would lead to an undesirable situation of the retention of legislation that provides for vague criminal offences which leave it to the court’s subjective assessment whether a defendant is to be convicted or acquitted,” said the judge.
In the case, filed by a lobby group called Aids Law Project, the court heard that the same section had warranted other people surrounding an infected person to seek his or her status from a medical practitioner without their discretion or involvement. The lobby group argued that such risk of unwarranted disclosure of confidential information was against the affected person’s privacy. Aids Law Project adopted the view that Section 24 of the Act was likely to promote fear and stigma as it imposed a stereotype that people living with HIV were immoral and dangerous criminals, and this would negate the efforts being made to encourage people to live openly about their HIV status.

US: Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces acknowledges per-act sexual HIV exposure risk, limiting future military prosecutions for HIV non-disclosure as aggravated assault

The US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) has reversed the 2011 aggravated assault conviction (upheld by the US Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals in 2013) of Airman David Gutierrez for potentially exposing a number of sex partners to HIV at ‘swinger parties’, severly limiting the use of this law for future prosecutions in the US armed forces.

Gutierrez’s court-martial on the aggravated assault charge required prosecutors to prove several elements, including that the sexual activity – the “assault” – was deemed likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.

The five judge CAAF panel’s unanimous ruling, published on Monday (and available in full below) examined the per-act risk of oral and vaginal sex with and without a condom (although there appears to be no discussion of viral load as a key modifier of these risks).

“The question in this case is not whether HIV, if contracted, is likely to inflict grievous bodily harm,” wrote Chief Judge James E. Baker. “The critical question . . . is whether exposure to the risk of HIV transmission is ‘likely’ to produce death or grievous bodily harm.”

In overturning the conviction, the court cited testimony from the prosecution’s medical expert, Dr. Donna Sweet, that in oral sex with or without a condom, the risk of HIV transmission is “almost zero” and HIV transmission through vaginal sex with a condom is only “remotely possible.”

She estimated that an HIV-positive man engaging in condomless vaginal sex with an HIV-negative woman would result in a 1-in-500 risk of the woman acquiring HIV, but deemed this to be at the “high end” of probabilities.

CAAF concluded that the prosecution had failed to prove that any of the acts were likely to transmit HIV.

“In law, as in plain English, an event is not likely to occur when there is a 1-in-500 chance of occurrence,” Baker wrote.

Although the decision – overturning a 25-year precedent that had allowed military personnel to be convicted of aggravated assault based solely on a positive HIV antibody test – was welcomed by advocates, another part of the ruling potentially opens the door to the use of a lesser charge – assault consummated by a battery – for future allegations of HIV non-disclosure.

An article in The Tribune quotes Catherine Hanssens, executive director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy, noting that at least part of the decision was “an important sign of progress” that should be “read and taken seriously” by civilian as well as military courts. But…

In a move called “curious” by Hanssens and “astonishing” by military law blogger Zachary D. Spilman, author of Blog-CAAFlog, the court cited only a Canadian court decision for support of the potentially far-reaching conclusion that lack of knowledge equals lack of true consent.

In fact, the Court cited the notorious Supreme Court of Canada’s 1998 Cuerrier decision (which led to HIV non-disclosure in Canada problematically being framed as a serious sexual assault).

This, notes Spilman, could be extremely problematic in future military cases. His opinion analysis concludes:

I think this an incredibly odd ending to a very interesting opinion. CAAF reaches to foreign law to invalidate the consent of Appellant’s sexual partners, while simultaneously rejecting the notion that it should distort the law to “fit a round peg of conduct into a square hole of a punitive statutory provision.” Ultimately, the court seems to have merely traded one distortion of the law for another.

It remains to be seen what impact this will have on future US civilian or military cases.

In December 2013, the US Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act (fiscal year 2014) which aimed to reform the military’s HIV-related policies, including prosecutions for HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission. Although work is taking place behind the scenes, it’s unclear when this will have an impact on pending or future prosecutions or policy.

In the meantime, Gutierrez is currently serving eight years in military prison. His case has  been sent back to the Judge Advocate General of the Air Force for sentencing review.

The next HIV-related case likely to come before CAAF will be that of Lt Col. Ken Pinkela whose recent change.org campaign to review his unjust court-martial has over 73,000 signatures.

Since he was (falsely) accused of condomless anal intercourse when his viral load was extremely low – neither of which were discussed in this ruling – it remains unclear how this ruling will affect his case.

Read the entire CAAF decision below.

US v Gutierrez opinion and judgment (Feb 2015)

Spain: Supreme Court upholds nine year sentence for ‘reckless’ HIV transmission; BBC Mundo publishes analysis

Spain’s Supreme Court last week upheld a nine-year prison sentence for a man, known as ‘ABM’, who did not disclose his HIV-positive status to his former partner, who is now also living with HIV.  Although the reports do not state under which general law he was prosecuted, it is likely to be Article 149 of the Criminal Code, grievous bodily harm.

According to a recent analysis of all previous cases that reached Provincial or Supreme Courts (1996-2012), Article 149 has used for similar cases, using the ‘state of mind’ of ‘dolus eventualis’ similar to concept of ‘recklessness.’ The nine year sentence is similar to two previous cases for alleged HIV transmission during otherwise consensual sex in Spain. (Sixteen sentences and 9 writs belonging to 19 cases were included in the analysis; 17 judged by criminal and two by civil jurisdictions – full text at the bottom of the page).

The Court’s judgment, dated December 4, 2014 but published last week, noted that that  the Cantabria Provincial Court’s ruling was “sufficiently motivated” and dismissed ABM’s appeal which cited a violation of his right to the presumption of innocence and lack of credibility of his accuser, with whom he maintains a dispute over ownership of property.

The Supreme Court upheld the Provincial Court’s sentence of nine years in prison. He also has to pay his former partner compensation of 70,000 euros.

According to the judgment, cited in several Spanish language media reports (the most detailed of which was in 20 minutos), ABM was diagnosed in April 2000. In 2007 he began a romantic relationship with the complainant which lasted until 2012. It was alleged that ABM did not disclose to her that he was living with HIV despite having condomless sex. In 2011, she began to suspect that her partner may be living with HIV.

The Court found there was nothing to suggest that she was already HIV-positive when she arrived in Spain (from Peru), based on her own testimony, her medical history and her GP, although there is no mention of phylogenetic analysis being used to attempt to show a link between the viruses. The Court also noted that the woman is asymptomatic and on antiretroviral treatment.

BBC report and analysis

On Friday, BBC Mundo (the BBC’s Spanish language BBC World website) published a longer analysis of the implications of overly broad HIV criminalisation in Spanish-speaking countries.  I was interviewed for the piece, and am delighted to report that the journalist, Leire Ventas, produced a very good, balanced report.

Below is an approximate English translation of the Spanish language original.

Should knowing transmission of HIV be a crime?

January 30, 2015

A jail sentence in Spain rekindles debate over whether criminal law should apply to people who transmit the human immunodeficiency virus.Spain’s Supreme Court upheld the sentence of nine years in prison for a man who hid his HIV positive status from partner, infecting her with HIV.

The Court did not admit the appeal filed by the defendant.

This appeal had alleged violation of the right to presumption of innocence and lack of credibility of the victim, who maintains a dispute over ownership of a property.

According to the facts in the case, the convicted man was diagnosed HIV-positive in April 2000 and began a relationship with the woman in 2007.

They were together until 2012.

According to the Court, during those five years the defendant hid that he was HIV-positive from his partner and had sex without protection.

In 2011, woman began to suspect that her partner may have the virus and subjected to analysis, which confirmed infection.

“Intentional transmission”

Given this statement of facts, the Court found that the defendant had deliberately concealed his condition and that was the reason it upheld the ruling.

In the same vein, intentional transmission is the only case in which the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV / AIDS, UNAIDS, considers appropriate to apply the criminal law to people who transmit HIV or expose others to the virus.

“That is, when the person knows their HIV-positive serostatus and acts with intent to transmit or indeed does transmit,” says the report Criminalization of HIV Transmission, 2008 and its revision in 2013 the agency told the BBC.

“If a person known to be HIV-positive acts with the intention of transmitting the virus and transmits it (…), the damage justifies punishment,” it adds.

“In other cases, legislators, prosecutors and judges should reject the application of criminal law”.

Other cases

According to UNAIDS, the law should not apply to cases where there is no “significant risk” of transmission or where the person did not know they were HIV-positive, did not understand how HIV is transmitted, disclosed their status to the person at risk, or did not for fear of violence.

And neither should the law be used against someone who took “reasonable steps” of protection to reduce the risk of transmission or who previously agreed with the other person “a level of mutually acceptable risk”.

Thus, the agency recommends that governments legislate specifically to prevent HIV and only apply general criminal law to cases of intentional transmission.

They should also “develop guidelines to limit the discretion of the police and prosecutors in the application” of criminal law.

And UNAIDS believes that the latter creates “a real risk” of increasing stigma and discrimination.

“It is very likely that prosecutions and convictions fall on members of marginalized groups such as sex workers, men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs,” it says.

Obligation to disclose

For that reason, the agency also recommends repealing the legal obligation to disclose one’s HIV status or that of others, in the case of health workers, that exist in some countries.

“Everyone has the right to privacy regarding their health and should not be required by law to disclose such information, especially when it may cause serious stigma and discrimination and possible violence.”

It considers inappropriate to enact laws criminalising mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

“Everyone has the right to have children, including women living with HIV,” said UNAIDS.

It adds: “When pregnant women are advised on the benefits of antiretroviral therapy, almost all access treatment”.

The position of Edwin Bernard, co-ordinator of HIV Justice Network, a network of advocates providing information and international legal policy advice on HIV criminalisation, is not far from the recommendations of the UN programme.

“The only cases where it is appropriate to apply the criminal law is when there has been intent and these are usually very rare,” he tells the BBC.

He stressed that “not disclosing you have the virus, and keeping it a secret is not the same as wanting to spread it.”

There are several reasons not to tell, according to the activist: stigma, violence, even denying the condition itself.

Awareness, not persecution

Therefore he believes that laws around HIV in countries should be aimed at raising awareness and support for the eradication of the disease, and not the prosecution.

Latin America is a region particularly aware of this, he says.

“It has a good record of understanding that with regard to HIV the law should support and not persecute”.

“There have been very few known cases of prosecution for HIV transmission in Latin America. Most have taken place in Brazil and under a general, not specific, criminal law”.

In Spain, by contrast, between 1996 and 2012, 19 legal [or civil] cases were recorded.

This is registered in the report Temporal trends, characteristics and evidence of scientific progress in legal complaints for alleged sexual HIV transmission: 1996-2012.

However, the country with the most prosecutions is the United States, where 30 states have specific legislation on HIV.

“After eight years following up the issue, I can say that judicial systems, prosecutors and judges do not understand how the science has advanced, how the life expectancy of those with the virus has increased. They should know that the risk of transmission is very low “, says Bernard.

For the activist, the ideal situation would be to only have one or two lawsuits per year related to the topic.

“The law should be used, for example, in cases of rape. But when sex is consensual and those involved are aware of the risks, responsibility should also be shared.”

 

F. Bolúmar-Montero, M.J. Fuster-Ruiz de Apodaca, M. Weait, J. Alventosa & J. Del Amo (2015) Time trends, c…