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Thursday, 26 February 2009

US: New York DA calls for HIV-specific laws following new 'reckless endangerment' case

A New York State man charged with nine counts of reckless endangerment for having sex with nine males aged between 16 and 20 (the age of consent in NY is 17) without disclosing his HIV status has unleashed a political maelstrom reminiscent of the Nushawn Williams case in the late 1990s.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota is teaming up with Parents for Megan's Law – a group that advocates cracking down on sex offenders – and calling for HIV-specific laws in New York State because, according to an article in today's Newsday, the man is "a walking public health menace."

"Often, it is not until confronted with a case such as this that inadequacies in the law are revealed to prosecutors and the public," Spota said. "The penal law needs to be reviewed and revised to enhance the penalty and the ability to prosecute an individual who knowingly exposes individuals to HIV," the virus that causes AIDS.

The current case involves a 36-year-old newspaper deliveryman from Oceanside, who was arrested in December for having sex with a 16 year-old male in his car. When officers found HIV medications in the car, he was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment, criminal sex acts and endangering the welfare of a child.

Yesterday, he was charged on another eight counts of reckless endangerment after investigations uncovered a further eight males, aged 16 to 20, with whom he allegedly had sex without disclosing his HIV status. Unlike Williams, who pleaded guilty and was tried in the media, the man has pleaded not guilty on all nine counts of first-degree reckless endangerment.

A second news story from Newsday does not clarify whether any of the males have tested HIV-positive, and also shows a certain amount of ignorance regarding HIV transmission from Spota.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said medical privacy laws prevent him from revealing whether any of the alleged victims had contracted HIV or AIDS. He also noted New York law does not allow him to prosecute the suspect on charges of intentionally spreading the disease, adding he intends to ask state lawmakers to consider a change in the law.

Spota said [the man] faces a maximum of seven years if convicted of the most serious charge.

"On the other hand, each of the victims of this crime have been sentenced in our view to a lifetime of worry and testing," he said.

Today's sensitive HIV antibody tests have reduced the 'window period' between infection and diagnosis to a few weeks. A few people may produce antibodies outside this period, but all tests are now accurate by 3 months. Therefore, this will not result in a "lifetime of worrying and testing," as long as the young men are advised of the medical facts.

Complicating matters somewhat is the fact that the man is a registered sex offender due to "a 1992 sodomy conviction involving a 6-year-old relative. He was released from prison in 2001."

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