Rethinking Criminalization of HIV Exposure—Lessons from California’s New Legislation, T. Tony Yang & Kristen Underhill, New England Journal of Medicine (2018)

Research and Journal Articles

The authors identify some of the key drawbacks to HIV criminal laws and call for evidence-based responses to HIV in the renowned New England Journal of Medicine. The article analyzes and refutes what the authors believe are the strongest arguments supporting HIV criminal laws, which relate to the purpose of criminal laws generally: retribution (or punishment) and deterrence. Problems with the retribution rationale are exacerbated by the discriminatory enforcement of HIV criminal laws. As for deterrence, the article cites various research showing that HIV criminal laws don’t positively affect risk behavior and may in fact undermine the public health response to HIV by promoting stigma or disincentivizing knowing one’s status. The authors conclude by applauding California’s reform of its HIV criminal law and encourage the modernization or repeal of HIV criminal statutes. The article is important because the New England Journal of Medicine is among the most influential medical journals in the country and medical practitioners are a key ally to advocates working to reform HIV criminal laws.