US justice system declares war on HIV

The Root reports that a man in Texas was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for spitting at a police officer and another man, a 19-year-old student from Washington, was jailed for having unprotected sex with his own girlfriend.  The common feature in both of these relatively harsh sentences is that the men were  HIV positive.

More than 34 US states now have criminalized any actions that might possibly result in infecting a person with HIV.  No matter how small the chances are to catch the disease as a result of the offence (like spitting on somebody) and whether, or not the virus was actually  transmitted, harsh sentences for the HIV-infected seem to be the order of the day in the USA.

Depending on which state it is, actions that might infect someone are likely to be punished just as severely as a failure to act (e.g. to inform your partner of your condition) in order to prevent others from getting  infected. States are now taking to registering HIV-positive ‘criminals‘ in the National Sex Offenders’ Registry with no regard to the nature of the crime committed, which means that the whereabouts of the offenders are likely to get carefully monitored.

With more than one million people in the USA are officially HIV, or AIDS-ridden and with 40,000 HIV infections happening each year, these protective measures seem to be the start of a two-tier criminal justice regime – one for the non HIV-infected, one for the infected. The next step, bells for the HIV-infected? Who knows, as the US criminal justice system struggles to cope with this unprecedented problem.

[Medical Law Contributor]

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