BREAKING: PACHA Passes Resolution Condemning HIV Criminalization

Published: February 7, 2013

Despite the relatively low risk of transmission and significantly lowered level of harm, thirty-four U.S. states and territories have adopted criminal statutes based on perceived exposure to HIV. Most of these laws were adopted before the availability of effective antiretroviral therapy for HIV, which substantially reduces already low transmission risks and provides a pathway to highly successful HIV treatment. Clearly the use of HIV-specific criminal laws, of felony laws such as attempted murder and aggravated assault, and of sentence enhancements to prosecute HIV-positive individuals are based on outdated and erroneous beliefs about the routes, risks, and consequences of HIV transmission. Legal standards applied in HIV criminalization cases regarding intent, harm, and proportionality deviate from generally accepted criminal law principles and reflect stigma toward HIV and HIV-positive individuals. People living with HIV have been charged under aggravated assault, attempted murder, and even bioterrorism statutes, and they face more severe penalties because law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, and legislators continue to view and characterize people living with HIV and their bodily fluids as inherently dangerous, even as "deadly weapons." Punishments imposed for non-disclosure of HIV status, exposure, or HIV transmission are grossly out of proportion to the actual harm inflicted and reinforce the fear and stigma associated with HIV. Public health leaders and global policy makers agree that HIV criminalization is unjust, bad public health policy and is fueling the epidemic rather than reducing it.

Whereas the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) includes a statement on the problem and public health consequences of HIV criminalization and notes that many state HIV-specific criminal laws reflect long-outdated misperceptions of HIV’s modes and relative risks of transmission; that criminal law has been unjustly used in the United States to prosecute and disproportionately sentence people with HIV; and that legislators reconsider whether these laws further the public interest and support public health approaches to preventing and treating HIV;

Whereas nearly all HIV-specific criminal laws do not consider correct and consistent condom use and effective antiretroviral therapy that reduces the risk of HIV transmission to near-zero as evidence of a lack of intent or ability to harm; and behaviors that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have negligible risk of transmitting HIV, such as spitting and biting, have resulted in sentences as long as 35 years;

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