CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Friday, April 21, 2017

Stephens on Criminalizing HIV

Stefanie Nicole Stephens (Southern University Law Review) has posted Ending HIV: Stigma, Fear-Based Policing, and Criminalization in Louisiana Through Training of Law Enforcement and Prosecutors on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Human immunodeficiency virus, commonly known as HIV is a lentivirus that if left untreated, can lead to acquired immunodeficiency virus, commonly known as AIDS. Currently, HIV/AIDS affects more than 1.2 million people living in the U.S, and 1 out of 8 people are not even aware that they have contracted HIV. HIV emerged during the 1980’s, and was originally seen as a type of cancer because of the severity of the disease, and the almost immediate manner in which it claimed an infected person’s life. Since then, many strides have been made medically in improving the quality and length of life of those who have contracted HIV. Despite these medical advancements, those who have contracted HIV now have obstacles to face criminally.

In response to the growing population of persons living with HIV/AIDS, state legislatures created and enacted laws governing the activities of intentional exposure to HIV, intentional transmission of HIV, and disclosure of HIV status to partners. Laws vary from each state regarding what behavior is criminalized, and the penalties imposed if a person is found guilty. In Louisiana, La. R.S. 14:43.5 was enacted in 1987, and criminalizes the intentional exposure to the AIDS virus. The issues with the Louisiana statute are 1) that exposure to the AIDS virus does not necessarily equate to transmission; and 2) some of the behaviors defined, as exposure in the statute will not actually transmit HIV/AIDS. Thus, there has been an emergence of many cases where persons are arrested, tried, and convicted of intentional exposure, where there was little to no rate of transmission of the virus.

As of recently, there has been a movement to change the language of the statute to align with the scientific definitions of transmission, and end the criminalization of ordinary behaviors, which will not lead to contracting HIV. This comment serves to argue that amending La. R.S. 14:43.5 is not enough to affect change in the criminalization of persons living with HIV/AIDS in Louisiana; and urges to also include mandatory HIV/AIDS training of law enforcement officers and prosecutors. By including law enforcement officers and prosecutors in the reform of HIV-specific laws, there is a chance to affect change in the way arrests are made and cases are tried.

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