Criminal Justice

HIV-positive man can't be prosecuted for consensual sex after disclosing status, state court says

An HIV-positive man cannot be prosecuted for engaging in consensual sex after disclosing his HIV status to his partner, the Minnesota Supreme Court has held.

The court, in a 5-0 decision (PDF) (with two abstentions) Wednesday, found that the law applies to the donation or exchange for value of blood, sperm, organs, or tissue, not to acts of sexual conduct.

“Because respondent’s conduct did not involve the donation or exchange for value of his sperm, there is insufficient evidence to support respondent’s conviction” under the law, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote for the court.

The ruling affirmed a 2012 decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which reversed the attempted first-degree assault conviction of Daniel James Rick of Minneapolis.

Rick was convicted of infecting a sexual partner, known only by the initials D.B., with HIV, even though he argued that he disclosed his HIV status to D.B. prior to engaging in consensual sex. He was sentenced to 49 months in prison.

Gay rights groups had contended that prosecutors’ interpretation of the law violated the rights of HIV-positive adults to engage in consensual sex even if they have informed their partners of their HIV status.

But Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman had argued that the law was meant to prohibit conduct by people who know they’re infected with the HIV virus but engage in unsafe sex anyway. “We need clear tools to prosecute folks who have serious communicable diseases not necessarily limited to HIV and AIDS, but others that can cause serious harm to others,” Freeman told the Star Tribune.

Freeman told the Star-Tribune that prosecutors will proceed with other pending charges against Rick while encouraging Minnesota legislators to clarify the law.

The ACLU, which had filed a friend of the court brief in the case on Rick’s behalf, said in a prepared statement that the decision affirms that the government must respect the personal and private decisions of consulting adults regard sexual intimacy and procreation.

“The court’s decision rightly protects Minnesotans from unconstitutional intrusions into their private conduct,” said Terri Nelson, legal director of the ACLU of Minnesota. “Our criminal laws should not be used to target the private actions of consenting adults.”

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