California: Needle Exchange Activists Can't Use a Health Defense
October 27, 2010
A Stanislaus County judge will not allow two activists to cite public health issues when they stand trial in March for operating an unauthorized syringe-exchange program (SEP).
In April 2009, undercover officers said they caught Kristy Tribuzio and Brian Robinson handing out clean syringes and collecting dirty ones in a south Modesto park. Both were charged with possessing drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor carrying up to a year in jail.
Monday's ruling was the second time Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdoba turned down the defendants' efforts to cite medical necessity in their defense to jurors. "[There] is a legislative solution to this issue," he said, referring to bills introduced in the state Legislature.
In 2008, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal for an authorized SEP, which had been recommended by a civil grand jury and health experts. The grand jury reported that year that the county was on track to record 620 new hepatitis C cases, up from 519 in 2007. Opponents, including county District Attorney Birgit Fladager and Sheriff Adam Christianson, said an SEP would enable addiction.
Defense attorney Rubén Villalobos maintains that his clients were fighting the spread of hepatitis C and HIV through needle sharing among injection drug users.
Of the 40 SEPs in California, just three are in the Central Valley, according to the state Department of Public Health.
10.26.2010; Merrill Balassone
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