Criminal Justice

ACLU submits comments to end the criminalization of people living with HIV


Updated 10/24/2016: In January of 2016, the ACLU of Ohio urged the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee to remove laws criminalizing people living with HIV from our state’s criminal code [see below]. The Committee’s recently-released draft took positive steps towards this end – but it didn’t go far enough. Under the draft, transmitting HIV remains singled out and could be considered felony assault. There is no rational or medical reason to continue this stigma. That’s why the ACLU of Ohio has signed onto a letter from the Positive Justice Project, asking the Committee to end the criminalization of HIV completely.

Read Positive Justice Project’s October 2016 letter to the Criminal Justice Recodification Committee.


The ACLU of Ohio submitted comments to the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee urging them to end the criminalization of people living with HIV.

When these laws were enacted in the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, there was so much confusion about how the virus was transmitted, which lead to incredible fear and stigmatization. In 1995, a Texas inmate with HIV threatened prison guards and spat twice at them. He was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to life in prison. The Center for Disease Control indicates that HIV is not transmitted through saliva.

“The early days of the AIDS epidemic were terrifying,” wrote Adrienne Gavula, Regional Office Director for the ACLU of Ohio. “No one understood how this infection spread or what treatment worked. That fear of the unknown resulted in many bad laws being passed and bad policies being implemented. Thankfully, living with HIV today is much different than it was 30 years ago. However, the laws have not been changed to reflect medical advancements in our understanding and treatment of HIV.”

A 2003 study by Yale University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS indicated that these kinds of laws were ineffective in accomplishing perceived public health goals. Offenders were not deterred by the laws because, regardless of their HIV status, most cases already involved illegal activity, such as rape or assault. Public health goals do not justify the current system of prosecution and punishment.

“Because Ohio’s laws that criminalize HIV do not consider intent, risk of transmission, or even whether transmission actually occurred, and because the existence of such laws actually deters people from being tested, […] sections of the Ohio Revised Code should be updated to reflect modern best medical and public health practices and research. It is time that Ohio takes steps to reduce the spread of HIV rather than hinder efforts to combat the disease through outdated criminal laws.”

Criminalization only serves to extend the stigma already placed upon people living with HIV, it gives relatively long sentences (10-20 years) even when no infection has occurred, and it delays any testing and treatment that a person may receive because of the fear of being prosecuted.

Read the ACLU of Chio’s January 2016 letter  to the Criminal Justice Recodification Committee.