A 36 year Oak Park man was charged with criminal transmission of HIV recently after he bit a police officer. The local police report stated that while he was being processed on a charge of shoplifting the alleged offender became "agitated and aggressive" as an officer was trying to move him from one room to another and bit the officer on the thumb. The news reports included the offender's name, a court-created exception to Illinois' strict AIDS confidentiality laws.
Illinois' Criminal Transmission of HIV law makes it a class B felony for anyone with HIV to "engage in intimate contact" with another person unless the person with HIV has first disclosed his or her status and the other party has consented to the contact. "Intimate contact" is defined as "the exposure of the body of one person to the bodily fluids of another in a manner which would result in the transmission of HIV." An individual with HIV can be prosecuted under the statute whether or not HIV is in fact transmitted.
Ann Hilton Fisher, executive director of the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago, pointed to the arrest as an example of the outdated and stigmatizing nature of HIV criminal transmission laws, both in Illinois and across the country. "There is, of course, no risk that the officer will get HIV from this bite." "These laws reflect, and fuel, outdated notions of HIV transmission." "How many people will read this article and think that they need to know the HIV status of the two year old who bit their child in the arm in a nursery school tussle over a toy, or worry that they shouldn't share a meal, let alone a kiss, with someone who is HIV positive?"
There is a rising national movement to end criminal laws that single out people with HIV for special prosecution. In September U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced federal legislation that would require a review of federal and state criminal transmission laws and provide incentives for states which adopt best practices regarding those laws. In Illinois advocates and prosecutors have been working together for several years to modify Illinois law to reflect current knowledge about HIV transmission and encourage condom use, but those discussions have not yet reached agreement.