This journal article reviews data on arrests for HIV-specific crimes in the Nashville, Tennessee prosecutorial region from 2000 to 2010. These crimes include class C felonies of criminal exposure of another to HIV or hepatitis B or C, and aggravated prostitution (i.e., solicitation by one who knows he/she is HIV positive). Defendants convicted of these crimes are classified as violent sex offenders and must register with the state's sex offender registry for life.
The authors compile arrest records, case summaries, and affidavits of complaint for 27 arrests for HIV exposure and 25 arrests for aggravated prostitution from January 2000 to December 2010. They set forth defendant and complaining witness characteristics, and described HIV exposure offenses, behaviors, dispositions, and penalties. The authors state that while their Nashville data set is too small for extensive analysis, it provides important insight into these laws – specifically, that previous research has likely underestimated the incidence of HIV-specific arrests and prosecutions.
Among their findings:
• Almost half of the charges for HIV exposure were for nonsexual behaviors posing little or no risk of HIV transmission. Since the law requires "significant exposure" to HIV, this suggests a misunderstanding or misuse of the law by police officers and prosecutors.
• More than half of those arrested for aggravated prostitution had offered only oral sex, which poses minimal risk of HIV transmission.
• Substance abuse and mental impairment played a role in nearly half of the aggravated prostitution cases; nearly a third of those arrested for this offense were homeless.
• Most HIV exposure cases involving spitting, scratching, or blood splattering occurred when defendants were intoxicated, agitated, or otherwise impaired; most were resisting arrest.
The authors argue that using Tennessee's HIV exposure and aggravated prostitution statutes to reduce the spread of HIV is inappropriate and inadequate; in the sampled cases, the conduct punished has little relation to HIV transmission risk. Nor were these laws used to punish cases of intentional exposure or transmission, dismissing a common argument in favor of HIV-specific laws. The criminal justice system is ill-equipped to address the underlying medical, behavioral, and social problems exhibited by many of the sampled defendants. Public health policy, prosecutorial guidelines, and comprehensive data sets from strategic jurisdictional samples are crucial to further exploring the implications of HIV-specific arrests and prosecutions.