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

Court and Agency Decisions and Orders (including case law)

In this consolidation of two cases, the Illinois Supreme Court rejected constitutional challenges to Illinois' criminal HIV statute brought by two individuals convicted for criminal transmission of HIV. One person's conviction was based on the alleged failure to disclose their HIV status to a sexual partner. The second defendant's conviction was based on a rape committed following their diagnosis of HIV. Both defendants argued that Illinois' criminal transmission statute violates their right to free speech and association.

The state Supreme Court overturned the lower courts' holdings that the statute was unconstitutionally vague, and rejected the free speech and association arguments. In a short opinion, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the law in question, 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 law provides clear standards for law enforcement officers, judges and juries to interpret it consistently. The decision suggests that the high court was dissatisfied with the quality and imprecision of both the lower court decisions and defendants' legal arguments. 

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 to date have been 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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