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News Release ~ 05/26/2016

Nation's Criminal Defense Bar Decries HIV Criminalization

Washington, DC (May 26, 2016) – On May 21, 2016, at the spring meeting of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), the board of directors unanimously adopted a resolution opposing all laws that base criminal liability and/or penalty enhancements on one's HIV status rather than on the intent to harm another individual. Thirty-four U.S. states and territories have criminal statutes that allow prosecutions for allegations of non-disclosure, exposure and (although not required) transmission of the HIV virus. Prosecutions have occurred in at least 39 states under HIV-specific criminal laws or general criminal laws. Most of these laws treat HIV exposure as a felony, and people convicted under these laws are serving sentences as long as 30 years or more.

As set forth in NACDL's resolution, "the focus on knowledge of status as a key element of an HIV-related crime, rather than on intent and capacity to transmit the virus, is a classic example of an inadequate mens rea, or criminal intent, requirement and overly expansive criminalization."

"Laws such as these are textbook examples of flawed criminal justice policy," said NACDL President E.G. "Gerry" Morris. "Furthermore, as a public health matter, these laws operate as an impediment to what should be the shared goal here – ending the epidemic. NACDL stands with the HIV/AIDS-affected community and others in unambiguously declaring that HIV is not a crime. It should not be treated as such. Rather than irrationally deploying the criminal law to stigmatize and punish the more than 1.2 million people in the United States living with HIV, we need to work together to advance policies that encourage, rather than deter people from learning of their HIV status and seeking life-saving treatment."

NACDL's May 21, 2016 resolution is available here.

In addition, audio from a May 5, 2016 teleconference co-sponsored by NACDL, the Center for HIV Law and Policy, and the American Bar Association AIDS Committee – When Sex is a Crime and Spit is a Dangerous Weapon: A Teleconference on HIV Criminal Laws – is available here.

Contact

Ivan J. Dominguez, NACDL Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org for more information.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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