In a case in Ohio that CHLP was involved with, we are thrilled to report that the defendant was recently sentenced to a term of probation and HIV-related community service by the court. The defendant, who is living with HIV, had pled guilty to one count of felonious assault under Ohio's criminal HIV exposure and transmission statute and faced a term of imprisonment of two to eight years. (Last year, the same court sentenced a young woman convicted of similar charges to seven years incarceration. The prosecutor in that case had recommended four to six years.)
Throughout this case, the defendant was fortunate in having support from an unwavering advocate, Linda Titus, the Child and Family Services Director for the Ursuline Sisters HIV/AIDS Ministry, and her colleagues at the ministry; and extraordinarily caring and knowledgeable doctors. CHLP provided the defendant’s attorneys with pre-trial and sentencing memoranda and strategy assistance and coordination. You can read the perspective of Ms. Titus, in a letter of thanks she sent to the young woman's advocates and community, describing what is, and hopefully will continue to be, the lasting effect of the case (the names in the letter have been replaced with initials to protect the defendant and her family’s privacy):
Thank you for your listening ear, patience, knowledge, compassion and time. When we come together with our unique quirks, personalities, and skills to support a common cause, we can make great things happen. I do not, for a minute, think we were a chance combination. Our efforts will have the ripple effect of building up, rather than tearing apart, several lives.
With continued support, guidance, education and trusted relationships, I know AR will contribute to our society. Her daughter [AR was pregnant when sentenced] will have the demonstrable advantages that come from immediate and loving contact with her birth mother in the early months and years of her life. AR’s mother will not endure the hardships of communicating, visiting, and providing for an incarcerated family member. These issues are real and very detrimental to the loved ones of the imprisoned. AR’s brother, RR, will have the attention, guidance, and help with large and small everyday tasks. Our HIV community will benefit from the hours of community service that AR will perform. We are all stronger when we build rather than destroy.
While some individuals have such severe behavioral problems that separation from society is the only answer, I believe we would agree that this is not the case for AR. We must rid ourselves of the fallacy that external punishments such as confinement reduce these internally driven behaviors. I hope, that as a people, we will grow in our understanding of human behavior and find ways to be fair, just, and to build lives so that we all benefit. The judge’s sentence allows for monitoring and building of a life. Fair and creative sentences enhance our society.
As a teacher, and perhaps an optimist, I hope to always believe that with the correct structures in place, and with a spirit of love and cooperation, we can achieve anything. Thank you for giving of yourselves for a family that I love. This is the best gift anyone can give.
I hope, with the exception of Mayo, that your knowledge of HIV has increased. There are lawmakers all over the country and in Ohio that are trying to change the laws to be more just and community building rather than destroying. I think it is obvious that Ohio’s laws are steeped in fear, ignorance and the stigma that accompanies such perceptions. If you would like to further learn or become involved in HIV law, please do not hesitate to contact Mayo with the Center for HIV Law and Policy and to explore other resources, including our Ursuline Sisters HIV/AIDS Ministry.