Earlier this month, the Obama administration detailed a plan asking states to phase out laws that make HIV transmission a crime. In Colorado, the move would affect at least three laws related to sex crimes and prostitution. Attorney General John Suthers, however, disagreed with the White House plan, saying that even though prosecuting attorneys may rarely use the laws to level criminal charges, the laws may well have a deterrent effect and should not be stricken from the books.
“Just because those sorts of cases are rare doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have laws that deal with those situations– knowing transmission of disease,” said Attorney General spokesperson Mike Saccone, pointing to the high-profile Colorado case last year where a surgery technician with Hepatitis C infected patients at the Rose Medical Center in Denver and the Audubon Surgery Center in Colorado Springs.
Ultimately, the attorney general follows laws passed by the legislature, which could well sign on to the Obama plan. Decisions on whether to file criminal charges of HIV transmission are made by individual district attorneys. Calls to the Colorado District Attorneys Council were not immediately returned.
In Colorado, it’s a crime to fail to disclose HIV positive status when engaging in prostitution, which is a serious Class 5 felony. Colorado laws also increase sentences for sex criminals who fail to disclose HIV positive status.
An HIV positive man in Denver was recently charged with attempted second-degree assault with a deadly weapon for spitting on another person. The charges were dropped in part because HIV can not be transmitted through saliva.
In 2009 a man was convicted of child abuse for not informing doctors or his wife that he was HIV positive before the birth of his child. The child was born with HIV, a development the doctors said could have been avoided had they been informed earlier of the father’s status.
Years ago, Attorney General Ken Salazar prosecuted a man for knowingly attempting to transfer HIV through blood in his saliva during a fight, calling it a deadly weapon.
As the Iowa Independent reported this week, in announcing the plan, the White House cited Center for Disease Control findings indicating that there was little behavioral change that occurred as a result of HIV laws.
A total of 32 states in the U.S. currently have laws on the books that make AIDS transmission a crime. The government has required states that receive federal funding for AIDS programs to enact such laws.
Suthers has drawn praise and fire and a strong election opponent this year by seeming to oppose the Obama administration by joining with other Republican attorney generals in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of federal health reform legislation.