At least 35 states have laws that specifically criminalize exposing someone to HIV – even in ways that experts say carry little, if any, risk of infection. In fact, none of these laws require transmission to occur. ProPublica documented over 500 cases in which people were convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, criminal charges for not stating they were HIV-positive. One man in Iowa was sentenced to 25 years in prison – more than double the state maximum for sexually abusing a child – for failing to disclose his HIV status before a sexual encounter.
Sergio Hernandez joins ProPublica’s Steve Engelberg in the Storage Closet Studio this week to talk about his latest report on these laws, which almost always single out HIV exposure with harsher punishments than other diseases:
“There are other diseases that are also communicable and actually more infectious,” Hernandez says. “One example that we use is hepatitis, which is something like 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV, and other diseases that are certainly more deadly. But none of these diseases are treated quite as harshly. There are states that have laws that criminalize the exposure to another person of tuberculosis … But in those cases, exposure to tuberculosis or hepatitis might be a misdemeanor but exposure to HIV is still a felony.”