WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LAWS THAT PROSECUTE PEOPLE WITH HIV
For people with HIV, a contentious relationship, a personal misunderstanding or even a minor infraction of the law can lead to a long jail sentence, public shaming and registration as a sex offender. HIV-specific criminal charges have been filed in the U.S. more than 1,500 times.
If you have been accused, DO NOT TALK to police or investigators
- Do not acknowledge your HIV status (no matter how well-known your HIV+ status might be, just say you want a lawyer)
- Do not provide blood, saliva or give permission for any medical tests
- Do not sign any documents
- Do not volunteer any information.
Tell them you want a lawyer and will not answer questions until you have one
They may try to convince you things “will be easier” if you cooperate; this is rarely true. Providing information before you have the help of a lawyer is NEVER to your advantage, even if you know you did nothing wrong.
Some people get convicted because they cooperated before they had a lawyer. Be polite, but absolutely do not talk, acknowledge, provide information or sign anything until you have a lawyer.
FINDING A LAWYER
You have and should exercise your right to remain silent until you have a lawyer. If you cannot afford one, the state must provide one for you. Finding a lawyer knowledgeable about HIV and criminalization can be difficult.
Contact your local public defender’s office, HIV legal clinic or service provider or reach out to the following agencies for a referral or other resources:
Sero Project: seroproject.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, please include your phone number
Lambda Legal Defense: lambdalegal.org Lambda’s website has “helpline” numbers for different parts of the country.
ACLU (to find your local ACLU chapter): aclu.org
Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (mostly focused in New England): glad.org
AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania (mostly in PA and NJ): aidslawproject.org
AIDS Law of Louisiana: aidslaw.org
Whitman-Walker Legal Services (Washington, DC): wwc.org
Duke AIDS Legal Project (North Carolina): www.aidslegalproject.org
Public Law Center (Southern California): www.publiclawcenter.org
Center for HIV Law & Policy: www.hivlawandpolicy.org
It is awkward, but having proof that you disclosed your status to sex partners can help protect you from prosecution (but it is no guarantee). Possible strategies include:
- Have your partner sign a disclosure acknowledgement form (see sample)
- Save email, text exchanges, voicemail recordings, social media profiles or other evidence that you disclosed your HIV status (If arrested, your computer may be seized; save copies in a safe separate location)
- Take your partner with you to your doctor or caseworker and ask them to note your partner’s knowledge of your HIV+ status in your file
- Talk about your HIV+ status in front of your partner and a third party you trust who could testify that you disclosed
- Make a video with your partner talking about your HIV status
- Keep a diary noting occasions when you discussed your HIV status with your partner
- Make note of physical evidence of your HIV status, like medications in clear sight, doctor visit reminders, printed HIV-related brochures or magazines, etc., that others have seen.