The Center for HIV Law and Policy recently published an illustrative (though not exhaustive) list of 332 arrests and prosecutions for HIV exposure in the US between 2008-2017. ‘
To illustrate but a handful:
October 2017: a 28 year old man was arrested in Florida for allegedly not disclosing to sexual partners he was living with HIV.
October 2017: A 29 year old man pleaded no contest to felony charge of knowingly exposing another person to HIV and faced up to 30 years in prison.
September 2017: A woman was arrested in Florida for allegedly threatening to spit in the eyes of a nurse.
September 2017: A 32 year old woman was arrested in Kansas for aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer after she attempted to rub blood on an officer.
Now across the pond in the United Kingdom.
Daryll Rowe is a 27 year old hairdresser from Brighton. In court it was revealed he deliberately tried to infect at least 10 men with HIV. For that, he was handed a life sentence, and will have to serve a minimum of 12 years for the “determined, hateful campaign of sly violence.”
After being diagnosed with HIV in April 2015, Rowe met men through the gay dating app Grindr. He had sex with ten of them.
During the six-week trial, the court learned he refused treatment and ignored advice from doctors. More importantly, he insisted on having unprotected sex with the men he met, claiming that he was “clean.” When they refused, he tampered with his condoms, tricking his partners into thinking that he was practicing safe sex. By tampering, I mean he cut off the ends of the condoms.
To add insult to injury, days after the encounter he would send taunting messages to his victims, such as:
“Maybe you have the fever…I have HIV. Whoops.”
“I ripped the condom. I got you.”
“I have HIV. LOL. Whoops!”
At sentencing, here is what the judge said:
“Many of those men were young men in their 20s at the time they had the misfortune to meet you. Given the facts of this case and your permissive, predatory behaviour, I cannot see when you would no longer be a danger to gay men. In my judgment, the offences, taken together, are so serious that a life sentence is justified.”
During the trial, Rowe defended by arguing he believed he had been cured, having started drinking his own urine, supplemented with natural remedies.
Five of Rowe’s targets were ultimately infected with HIV.
Given Rowe’s malicious intent, I am not surprised by the judgment or sentence.
Still, HIV is not unique in terms of potentially causing a chronic or fatal illness.
Arguably the same sentence could be handed down for any number of illnesses knowingly transmitted by one person to another. The law places a great deal of weight on a defendant’s state of mind, even if the outcome is the same. To take an extreme example, if a person has temporal lobe epilepsy and via an automatism, kills his roommate, that is treated very differently than pre-meditated intent to kill murder. In both cases, the roommate is now dead. But, in one, the defendant INTENDED that outcome. Does it really matter substantively if a person intends to kill another via an infectious disease or poison?
Interestingly, in California, effective 2018, the penalty for knowingly or intentionally exposing others to HIV was lowed from a felony to a misdemeanor. The act of knowingly donating HIV-infected blood, which was previously a felony, is now decriminalized. Supporters of the California bill pointed out that intentional transmission of any other communicable disease in California, such as SARS, Ebola, or TB was treated only as misdemeanors, so the goal was to level the playing field.
Is it possible there may have been more than one way to level the playing field?
What do you think?