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  • HIV Experts Urge Court to Consider the Science of HIV Transmission


    Current science should guide state Supreme Court’s decision, groups urge in amicus brief  

    Washington, D.C. – The Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANAC), the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA), and the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) recently filed a joint amicus brief in the Supreme Court of the state of Minnesota to support and encourage the use of current scientific knowledge in the court’s understanding of the routes and risks of HIV transmission.

    Although the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) highlights the problem and public health consequences of HIV criminalization, many state HIV-specific criminal laws still reflect long-outdated misperceptions of how HIV is transmitted and the relative risks of transmission. Minnesota is one of 34 states and territories that have laws criminalizing HIV "exposure" or nondisclosure of an individual's HIV status to sexual partners. Sentences imposed on people convicted of HIV-specific offenses can range in some states from 10 to 30 years, even in the absence of intent to transmit HIV or actual transmission. In some cases, defendants convicted under these statutes are also required to register as sex offenders.

    In the case (State of Minnesota v. Rick) on appeal, the defendant was acquitted on a charge brought under Minnesota’s “nondisclosure of HIV status” law, with the jury necessarily finding that Rick had informed his partner of his HIV+ status.  Rick was convicted, however, under a separate provision of the statute criminalizing the “transfer of sperm.”  The state court of appeals reversed that conviction, finding that the “transfer of sperm” provision of the statute could not be used to prosecute the defendant’s informed, consensual conduct.  The state appealed that judgment to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

    According to Kimberly Carbaugh, ANAC’s Executive Director, “the prosecution of individuals like the respondent, who have taken affirmative steps to inform their partner of their HIV-positive status, is neither medically appropriate nor legally justified. The state’s interpretation of Minnesota law may well impede HIV prevention efforts by dissuading people from accessing HIV diagnostic and treatment services. It also compromises the ability of people living with HIV/AIDS to openly and honestly communicate with their healthcare providers.”

    In an amicus brief filed Feb. 1, ANAC, HIVMA, and NASTAD urged that the court’s decision be guided by the current state of scientific knowledge on the treatment and prevention of HIV. “The state’s current interpretation of the law does not reflect the latest knowledge on how HIV transmission occurs or the fact that the HIV treatment available today is highly effective at suppressing the virus – allowing individuals with HIV to live near normal life spans and significantly reducing their transmission risk,” said HIVMA Chair Michael Horberg, MD, MAS, FIDSA. “While HIV infection remains a serious condition, the landscape has changed. HIV infection with effective treatment is neither easily transmitted nor a death sentence. Minnesota’s interpretation has not kept pace with these medical advances.”

    “The State’s interpretation of the Minnesota law intends to promote the public’s health, but in fact may have adverse public health consequences. The prosecution of people who know their HIV-positive status does not provide an incentive to get tested,” commented NASTAD’s Executive Director, Julie Scofield. “We know the importance of early testing and treatment to the health of people living with HIV and the benefits this brings to their communities. These cases and laws are based on stigma, not science, and pose a major threat to our nation's public health."

    The grounds of the state’s appeal in this case are in direct conflict with national public health campaigns to promote disclosure and condom use in order to reduce risk and new infections, and bring an end to the HIV epidemic. ANAC, HIVMA, and NASTAD strongly urge the court to apply evidence-based, scientific and public health knowledge in this and all cases.

    The case is State of Minnesota v. Rick. Read the full amicus brief here. The brief was authored by attorneys from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP. 


    The Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANAC) represents more than 2,000 nurses, nurse practitioners, and other health care providers who practice in a wide range of settings in HIV/AIDS care.

    The HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) is the professional home for more than 5,000 physicians, scientists, and other health care professionals dedicated to the field of HIV/AIDS. Nested within the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), HIVMA promotes quality in HIV care and advocates policies that ensure a comprehensive and humane response to the AIDS pandemic informed by science and social justice.

    The National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) represents the nation's chief state health agency staff who have programmatic responsibility for administering HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis healthcare, prevention, education, and supportive service programs funded by state and federal governments.

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