People v. Russell, 630 N.E. 2d 794 (Ill. 1994)

Court and Agency Decisions and Orders (including case law)

In this consolidated case, the Illinois Supreme Court rejected two constitutional challenges to Illinois; criminal transmission statute brought by Caretha Russell and Timothy Lunsford in response to their convictions for criminal transmission of HIV. Russell's conviction was based on her alleged failure to disclose her status to a sexual partner. Lunsford's conviction was based on a rape committed at a time when he knew that he was living with HIV. Russell and Lunsford argued that Illinois' criminal transmission statute infringes upon their constitutionally protected right to free speech and association.

The Supreme Court overturned the lower courts' holdings that the statute was unconstitutionally vague, and wholly rejected any free speech or association arguments. In a short and brusque opinion, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the statute, 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/12-16.2 (1992), which prohibits a person who is aware that he/she is living with HIV from engaging in intimate contact with another person, is "sufficiently clear and explicit." The Court stated that the statute provides definite standards for law enforcement officers, judges and juries such that enforcement of the statute does not depend on private interpretation. The Court found that the lower courts did not point to any particular state or federal constitutional article, section or clause, and the defendants' more specific constitutional arguments were without merit.The decision appears to be frustrated with the quality of both the lower court decisions and defendants' legal arguments. The Court does not address the disparity (and possibility of voiding for vagueness) between the statutory title of "Criminal Transmission of HIV" and the actual "exposure" requirement of the text.

People v. Russell is one of a number of cases dealing with constitutional challenges to a state's criminal transmission laws. Such challenges have been brought in a number of jurisdictions including Iowa, Kansas, and Louisiana and are generally unsuccessful. See State v. Keene, 629 N.W. 2d 360 (Iowa 2001); State v. Richardson, 209 P. 3d 696 (Kan. 2009) and State v. Gamberella, 633 So. 2d 595 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1993).

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