Being HIV Positive Might Land You In Jail. But That Is Changing.

Being HIV Positive Might Land You In Jail. But That Is Changing.

Under Louisiana law, you can wind up with a $5,000 fine and five years' jail time if someone comes in contact with your spit — if you're HIV positive. These laws are based on outdated science and multiple organizations are working to change them.

There are currently 26 states with HIV-specific criminalization laws, some of which penalize behavior regardless of whether the virus was actually transmitted.  [Illustration: Jason Longo]

There are currently 26 states with HIV-specific criminalization laws, some of which penalize behavior regardless of whether the virus was actually transmitted. [Illustration: Jason Longo]

Whenever Robert Suttle thinks about his time in jail, his eyes go soft, he lets out a long breath and his lips purse a bit. It’s noticeable that he — after almost a decade — still gets emotional about what put him behind bars.

In 2008, while working as an assistant clerk for the Louisiana Court of Appeals, Suttle went through a bitter breakup that resulted in a tit-for-tat trial, ending in Suttle being sentenced to six months in jail and registering as a sex offender for intentionally exposing a sexual partner to HIV. But there was no transmission of the virus.

And even though Suttle says he disclosed his status to his partner and that the sex was consensual, it didn’t matter much under Louisiana’s HIV exposure law, which states that anyone with HIV or AIDS who has unprotected sex can be tried and charged with a nonviolent felony. Offenders can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and must register as a sex offender in some cases.

Joseph Darius Jaafari, writing for NationSwell, looks at HIV laws based on outdated science and the multiple organizations that are working to change them.

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