After the height of the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s, California has held to laws making it a felony — and enforced by prison time — to knowingly infect another individual with HIV.
Thus, “it’s a felony for an HIV-positive person to have unprotected sex without informing their partner that they are infected. It is also a felony for HIV-positive people to donate blood, body organs or other tissue,” according to The Sacramento Bee.
However, that law, labeled as “irrational and discriminatory” by Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, has been signed away by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. Instead, knowingly infecting someone with HIV is now a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
The new bill would instead “make the intentional transmission of an infectious or communicable disease, as defined, a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than 6 months,” according to the California legislature.
“Right now HIV is singled out for uniquely harsh treatment as a felony,” said Wiener.
“HIV is a public health problem, not a criminal justice problem, and it needs to be treated this way,” he said, according to Express Newsline, further adding that modern drugs can limit the exposure effects toward some, yet many remain discouraged from getting tested due to the threat of strict felony charges.
Wiener hopes the new bill might encourage people to get tested and, in turn, lower the HIV transmission rate throughout the state.
“These laws do not prevent HIV infections. All they do is stigmatize people living with HIV and reduce access to testing and care,” he said, according to the Los Angeles Times. He also noted that people who expose others with different viruses get only a misdemeanor as well.
But many are not taking kindly to the newly enacted bill.
“I’m of the mind that if you purposefully inflict another with a disease that alters their lifestyle the rest of their life, puts them on a regiment of medications to maintain any kind of normalcy, it should be a felony,” said Republican state Sen. Joel Anderson of San Diego.
“It’s absolutely crazy to me that we should go light on this,” he added, suggesting that tougher penalties should apply to those with other infectious diseases as well.
“When you intentionally put others at risk, you should have responsibility,” Anderson said, according to CNN.
Other Republicans like Sen. Jeff Stone, who is also a licensed pharmacist and pharmacy owner, agree.
Stone suggested that to purposefully infect another individual would “condemn one to probably $1 million in drug therapy for the rest of their lives.”
However, according to STAT News, the new bill would repeal the “mandated criminal penalties for donating blood, organs, semen, or breast milk despite being HIV-positive,” and many are praising the act in the name of equality.
“California’s outdated and draconian HIV criminal laws have disproportionately harmed people of color and transgender women,” said Melissa Goodman, the Gender and Reproductive Justice Project director with the ACLU of Southern California, Breitbart reported.
“With the enactment of this law, our laws will now become more fair, less discriminatory, and will promote treatment and prevention rather than criminalization,” she added.
A study done by the Williams Institute shows that “less than 13 percent of HIV-positive Californians” are women, but women account for “43 percent of criminal justice proceedings based on HIV-positive status.”
The study also suggested that African-Americans and Latinos were disproportionately affected, as they were subject to 67 percent of criminal proceedings, and made up 51 percent of the HIV-positive population in California.
However, reducing the punishment for those who violate another’s health could make them more vulnerable.
Just one — of the many — stories of intentional infection stems from 2015, when landscape architect Thomas Guerra was convicted of infecting others with HIV, and boasted about it. The evidence was found from 11,000 text messages and three dozen audio clips, according to Thought Catalog.
“Yay lol,” read one of the texts. “Someone getting poz that day. Poor Sucka.”
Katherine Lewis, The San Diego judge, who sentenced Guerra, had some choice words regarding the case.
“I think that’s a tremendous oversight in the law if this is just a misdemeanor,” said Lewis, who also called the light sentence a “travesty” while insisting the offense should be changed to a “felony.”
According to The Washington Post, Lewis “said she would have liked to have slapped Guerra with a stiffer sentence but was prevented from doing so by statutes.”
Another case was reported in 2011, when David Dean Smith attempted to “spread the disease to kill people,” Breitbart reported. He specifically targeted those “who are young. He hits young women…those are his targets,” one of his alleged female victims.
But the ACLU continues to defend this new bill, saying the old law was “based on fear and the limited medical understanding of the time,” even when there are others
Former Republican state Sen.Richard Rainey, who introduced a bill in the 1990s making it a crime to expose an unknowing partner to HIV or AIDS, told the Los Angeles Times in 2003 that he agrees with what he set out to do in protecting unsuspecting victims.
“The way I see it, these people are handing out potential death sentences,” he said. (For more from the author of “California: It’s No Longer a Felony to Hide HIV When Donating Blood… Even If Goal Is to Infect Others” please click HERE)