In the early years of the HIV epidemic, laws were passed in many states pertaining to exposure to the disease, disclosure of disease status, and transmission of the disease to others. In many of these cases, the laws were based on inadequate or incomplete science, lack of understanding about the routes of transmission of the disease and the risk factors, and public fears.
While all states have general criminal laws that address offenses such as reckless endangerment, assault and battery, or attempted murder, some of these HIV-specific laws carried criminal penalties more severe than those for non-HIV related crimes of a more severe nature.
Criminalization laws pertaining to HIV are largely found in state law, although federal laws address HIV criminalization in some minute areas, such as blood donation.
Thirty four states and two U.S territories have laws concerning potential exposure to HIV or non-disclosure of HIV status. Even in the absence of transmission of the diseases, sentences can range between 10-30 years for these offenses.
In some states, a conviction under these laws requires the convicted person to register as a “sex offender” even in instances of consensual sexual activity between adults.
The National HIV/AIDS Strategy, released by the White House in July 2010, provides some guidance regarding the issue of criminalization, noting that in some instances, existing HIV exposure laws may need to be re-examined.2
REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act:
The REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act was introduced by on May 7, 2013. It is designed to ensure that laws, policies, and regulations do not discriminate against individual on the basis of their HIV status.
The bill recommends that state attorney general work with public health officials and judicial officials to ensure that laws, regulations, policies, and judicial precedent are all in line with the bill’s provisions regrading people living with HIV/AIDS.
The American Academy of HIV Medicine (AAHIVM) and its members are opposed to laws that distinguish HIV disease from other comparable diseases or that create disproportionate penalties for disclosure, exposure or transmission of HIV disease beyond normal public health ordinances. We support non-punitive prevention approaches to HIV centered on current scientific understanding and evidence based research.
For more information about the Academy’s position on HIV Criminalization, please refer to the AAHIVM policy platform.