Published January, 2009

Campbell v. State, 2009 WL 2025344 (Tex. App. 2009)

In 2006, an HIV-positive man, Campbell, was convicted of assault when he allegedly became confrontational and spat on a police officer's eyes and mouth during an arrest. The officer did not test positive for HIV. Because the Campbell's saliva was considered a possible means of transmitting HIV, his charges were elevated to assault with a "deadly weapon" and he was later sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Campbell's 2009 appeal presented the Court of Appeals of Texas with an opportunity to revisit whether or not the saliva of an HIV positive person could be considered a "deadly weapon." In 1992, the same court upheld the conviction of an HIV positive man for attempted murder when he spit on a prison guard, allegedly believing that his saliva could kill the guard. See, generally Weeks v. State, 834 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. Ct. App. 1992). Unfortunately because in both Weeks and Campbell, the state medical witness testified, in the absence of scientific evidence, that there was a theoretical possibility of HIV transmission through saliva the convictions were upheld.

Campbell's conviction was affirmed despite the fact that no officers involved in the altercation contracted HIV and despite the fact that spit or spit containing blood has never been documented to transmit HIV. His case speaks to a need for health officials, medical witnesses, and the Centers for Disease Control to more clearly and explicitly spell out how HIV is, and is not, transmitted, making clear that HIV transmission could rarely if ever occur in the absence of a deposit in a person's blood stream of significant amounts of HIV-infected blood from an individual with a measurable viral load. on how HIV is transmitted. The lack of a clear statement concerning the impossibility of HIV transmission through saliva has perpetuated uninformed public perceptions and discourse over the disease and its transmission and fed the stigma affecting HIV-positive persons.