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Saturday 9 May 2009

US: Pennsylvania woman who bit policeman guilty of aggravated assault; faces up to 52 years in prison

In stark contrast to the UK biting case reported below, a 29 year-old HIV-positive woman who bit a police officer during her arrest has been convicted of aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person.

The trial lasted one day, and there was no jury - just a judge: Judge Thomas P. Rogers. According to the Pottstown Mercury, the arrest took place in March 2008.

As police attempted to arrest a person inside the home, [the woman] attacked one police officer, pinning the officer to the ground and biting the officer on the forearm and punching the officer in the head, according to the criminal complaint. Police had to use a taser against [her] to stop the assault. As police took [the woman] into custody, she allegedly told police she is HIV positive, according to the criminal complaint. "You don't know who you're messing with! I'm HIV positive," Edwards allegedly shouted, according to the arrest affidavit. The police officer was treated at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center for the bite wound, scratches and an ankle injury, court documents indicate.
It's completely possible that the woman has not had a fair trial, because, according to the report even her defence lawyer admitted that she could have transmitted HIV (where were the experts?). Although there have been several case reports of HIV transmission via a bite, these are reassuringly extremely rare and would require fresh blood in the saliva of the HIV-positive person as well as an extremely high viral load – usually seen during primary infection or extremely advanced HIV disease.
During the trial, prosecutors and the defense lawyer said that [the woman] is HIV positive and that it's possible to transmit the virus, which causes AIDS, if an infected person bites another individual. "Her intent was to cause the maximum amount of pain and damage to the officer by attempting to pass HIV to the officer," Assistant District Attorney Nathan Schadler alleged. "Officers are there to protect the community and they shouldn't have to fear this type of assault. This intentional, deliberate behavior can't exist in our community," Schadler added.

While Schadler argued [the woman] attempted to cause serious bodily injury, defense lawyer John I. McMahon Jr. argued [she] caused bodily injury, a lesser degree of aggravated assault, and did not attempt to cause serious bodily injury.


Schadler said the police officer, whose name is being withheld by The Mercury because of the nature of the incident, was tested for HIV after the incident and to date has remained virus free. Schadler said that for months the officer had to live with the fear of a potential HIV infection. "To live with that for six months is unimaginable," Schadler said.


By convicting [the woman] of aggravated assault, the judge found that [she] attempted or intentionally or recklessly caused serious bodily injury to the police officer under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.
According to the report, she now faces a possible maximum sentence of 26 to 52 years in prison pending a background investigative report which will assist Judge Rogers in sentencing her later this year, so there is still time for Lambda Legal, American Civil Liberties Union and/or Human Rights Watch to intervene. Otherwise this woman may become a female Willie Campbell.



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