HIV & The Law

Last month NAPWA reported a case making its way through the courts of the Province of Ontario. Johnson Aziga, found by the trial court to have known he was HIV-positive when he slept with multiple women, two of whom later died of HIV-related disease, was convicted of two counts of murder.

The Crown is now asking for a determination that Aziga is a “dangerous offender” and can therefore be imprisoned until he is found to be no longer dangerous. Aziga’s lawyers argue that he is no longer dangerous and should not be treated as a “sexual psychopath.”

Now it’s down to the judge, who will have to decide which side has made a more compelling argument. We aren’t close enough to the facts of the case to have an opinion, and we certainly don’t envy the judge, who is closer and has to make a decision that will affect Aziga’s life and potentially the lives of others. But we note two aspects of this case that are relevant to the discussion of HIV-specific criminal laws here in the United States.

First, Aziga was not charged, tried, and convicted under an HIV-specific law. Inflicting grievous bodily harm that leads to death, either intentionally or with such shocking lack of concern for the consequences that it might as well have been intentional, counts as murder in Canada – just as it does in the United States. There was no need for an HIV-specific law in Aziga’s case in Ontario, and there is no need for any here in the States.

Second, the Aziga case demonstrates one of the problems of criminal cases that involve sexual behavior. The defendant and the complaining witness may both be telling very sanitized versions of the truth, or even, sometimes, both lying through their teeth. And either the defendant or the complaining witness, or both, may have psychological issues that affect their testimony. Judges have to determine guilt or innocence on the basis of which witnesses they find credible, when in fact none of them may be.

Add the element of hysteria present in so many HIV-related prosecutions, and you have a situation in which some judges will convict where reasonable doubt exists in spades or imprison without term without a water-tight case that the convicted offender is permanently dangerous, simply to avoid later criticism for what the defendant may do years in the future.

That’s a violation of human rights. The climate of hysteria has to end, and the beginning of the end will be rolling back HIV-specific criminal laws which the Aziga case shows we don’t need.

The National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) believes in self-determination. We are passionate about making life better and more meaningful for all people living with HIV/AIDS. While the epidemic impacts us directly, we also impact the epidemic by identifying ways to reduce its new infections, mitigate its stigma and alleviate its suffering.

Working together, HIV Positive people and our allies turn obstacles into strengths, barriers into opportunities and prejudice into respect.

Frank J. Oldham, Jr.
President and CEO

© National Association of People With AIDS, 2010.

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