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Human Immunodeficiency Virus - The "extreme Case"

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawHuman Immunodeficiency Virus - Criminalization As A Health Measure, Sex And Needle Sharing As Crime, The Behavioral Impact Of Criminalization

The "extreme case"

Criminalization debate tends to be framed in terms of "willful" or "incorrigible" people who expose large numbers of partners to their infection. An example is NuShawn Williams, who had sex with dozens of women, many of them minors, after being told he was infected. Thirteen of the women were later found to have HIV. Mr. Williams, who is black, claimed to believe that white health officials had falsely told him he was HIV infected in order to discourage him from having sex with white women in the rural area where he was diagnosed. He denied any wish to hurt any of this partners. After public health authorities released his name, he was discovered in a New York City jail. He eventually pled guilty to charges of statutory rape and reckless endangerment and was sentenced to between four and eighteen years in prison.

Proponents of criminalization tend to point to his as the "easy" case: a man, tested and counseled, continues to have sex and infect underage partners with a conscious disregard of the risk. The biggest problem with his case was that he could not be charged with more serious crimes: none of his victims had died, or were likely to predecease Williams himself, while prosecutors in New York reportedly doubted they could prove he had the specific intent to kill required to make out the offense of attempted murder.

If one accepts that he believed he was infected and understood the risks, then perhaps Williams's was an easy case. But this, opponents suggest, is just the problem: Williams's demonic intent was assumed, not proven. For example, his ability to recall the names of most of his partners when questioned by health authorities, which could reasonably be read as proof of fondness and concern, was interpreted by more than one commentator as malignant sexual score-keeping. For criminalization critics, it is Williams's race, class, and incongruity with his rural setting that made him the "easy" case, and not a basic difference between him and other infected people.

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