April 1, 2013
The case of an HIV-infected man in Minnesota who was convicted then cleared of a felony for having unprotected sex, is drawing attention from legal and medical experts nationwide. Prosecutors charged the defendant under Minnesota state statute 609.2241, which states that a person commits a crime by transmitting HIV or other serious communicable disease through "sexual penetration with another person without having first informed the other person" or by the "transfer of blood, sperm, organs, or tissues, except as deemed necessary for medical research or if disclosed on donor screening forms." The defendant's partner testified he had sex several times with him, but it was not clear how the partner contracted HIV.
The jury did not convict the defendant on the first subdivision of statute 609.2241, but did convict him on the second subdivision. The Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the conviction two to one, stating the 17-year-old statute did not clarify whether it is illegal for people with communicable diseases to have sex if they have notified their partner.
In response to the appellate court decision, Hennepin County's Attorney Mike Freeman successfully petitioned the state Supreme Court to hear the case. Freeman stated that the case is about stopping sexual predators from spreading disease rather than about persecuting HIV-infected people.
The defense attorneys argue that the second subdivision of the statute addresses medical procedures, not sexual intercourse. HIV medical specialists and advocacy organizations have supported the court of appeals' decision. The Minnesota AIDS Project and the American Civil Liberties Union warn against criminalizing people with HIV, especially since advances in medical treatment now make it possible for couples in which one or both partners have HIV to conceive and bear healthy children. HIV advocacy organizations urge lawmakers to rewrite the state statute based on justice and current science.