August 22, 2013
The Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously decided this week that an HIV-positive man found guilty for having sex with a man who later developed the infection was convicted wrongly and sided with an appeals court to overturn the original decision. The defendant was convicted more than two years ago under an obscure law that discussed transfer of sperm, blood, or tissue, but did not refer to sexual intercourse.
AIDS activists and the American Civil Liberties Union had followed the case closely. The man maintained he informed his sexual partner that he was HIV-positive. The original jury believed that assertion and found him not guilty by reason of sexual penetration; the jury did find him guilty of attempted assault under the second part of the law. "If this conviction had been upheld, it would have been saying that sex is a lethal weapon," said Dr. Michael Horberg, chair of the HIV Medicine Association. "Obviously, the original intent of the law was specifically for organ and tissue donation, including sperm. That is a vastly different situation than what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home."
The Supreme Court agreed the wording was ambiguous. The 16-page opinion also stated that the term "transfer" in the second section of the law did not include sexual conduct. "While sperm might be characterized as an asset of property in a medical context, such as with respect to fertility, that characterization is not applicable to sperm transmitted to another through sexual conduct," Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said that in spite of his displeasure with the final ruling, he encouraged Minnesota lawmakers to clarify the law. "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," he said.