Lambda Legal: ‘Being HIV-positive is not a crime’Around the Nation Thursday, May 3rd, 2012
NEW YORK – Lambda Legal has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the New York Court of Appeals urging the Court to drop the aggravated assault charge leveled at a criminal defendant based on his HIV status.
“The last time I checked, being HIV-positive is not a crime,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV project director at Lambda Legal. “And a person should not face criminal punishment – or, as in this case, significantly enhanced penalties – simply because he or she happens to be living with HIV.”
In September 2006, David Plunkett was arrested following an altercation with police during which he allegedly bit one of the police officers. Because he subsequently revealed to the officers that he has HIV, Plunkett was charged with aggravated assault upon a police officer, a felony premised on use of a “dangerous instrument.”
“There was no possibility of transmission here. The real ‘dangerous instrument’ appears to be in the hands of the prosecutors, who are twisting this law to trump up the charges against a man who is living with HIV,” Schoettes added.
“The notion that saliva can transmit HIV is contrary to the scientific evidence. As an association representing HIV care providers and scientists, a key tenet of our work is to advance accurate and evidenced-based policies, including on how HIV is transmitted. Prosecutions like this one fuel HIV-related stigma and discrimination and set back HIV prevention efforts,” said Andrea L. Weddle, HIV medicine association executive director.
Lambda Legal filed an amicus brief in the matter, urging the Court of Appeals to drop the aggravated assault charge. The brief explains that the realities of HIV transmission risk do not support prosecuting Mr. Plunkett under a law addressing the use of a dangerous instrument and that this charge leads to public misunderstanding of how HIV is transmitted and contributes to stigmatizing people with HIV and undermines important public health goals.
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