HIV Transmission Penalties Outdated and Too Harsh, Say Some California Officials

At the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, someone who knowingly transmitted the virus to an unsuspecting partner would, in effect, be signing that partner’s death warrant, California officials at the time believed. Doing so could land someone in prison for six years. Times have changed and while such activity is still disparaged, AIDS is not the only disease being transferred and should not be singled out by the law, activists and some legislators believe.

That’s the reasoning behind State Senate Bill 329, which says that knowingly transmitting any infectious or communicable disease, including HIV, would be a misdemeanor, not a felony, according to STAT.

STAT cites a 2015 study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law which says that of the 800 people who interacted with the criminal justice system between 1988 and 2014 because of an HIV-related offense, 95% were engaged in sex work. The study states that, “less than 13% of HIV-positive Californians are women, but women account for 43% of criminal justice proceedings based on HIV-positive status.”

The disparities don’t end there, however. African-Americans and Latinos accounted for 67% of criminal proceedings, but make up 51% of California’s HIV-positive population. On the other hand, Caucasian males, who are 40% of HIV-positive Californians, accounted for 16% of those who interacted with the with criminal justice system.

STAT reports that, “criminal penalties for donating blood, organs, semen, or breast milk despite being HIV-positive would also be repealed. Existing law ensures all donors of any bodily substance are screened for HIV, hepatitis agents, or syphilis before any transfer occurs.”

Source: STAT (link is external)