HIV Positive Man in Prison for Spitting
By: Gerri L. Elder
Spitting on someone is the ultimate insult, but now for the first time, a court has deemed saliva to be a deadly weapon. Granted, the spatter is a man who is HIV positive, but saliva, tears and sweat have been shown not to result in the transmission of the HIV virus.
The New York Times reported that a homeless man from Dallas, Texas has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for harassing a public servant with a deadly weapon after he spit into the mouth and eye of a police officer and then provoked the officer by announcing that he was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Because the court made the curious ruling that the saliva of a person infected with HIV constitutes the use of a deadly weapon, the man will not be eligible for parole until he has served at least half of his sentence.
Willie Campbell, 42, was seen unconscious outside a building in Dallas in May 2006. When paramedics and police officers arrived, Campbell fought with them and kicked a police officer as he was being arrested for public intoxication. As he was being moved to the patrol car, Campbell began spitting at the arresting officer and said that he has HIV.
At his trial, Campbell denied that he had resisted arrest or spat on an officer, according to his criminal defense lawyer. Because Campbell was indicted under a habitual-offender statute, the penalty in his case was increased to a minimum of 25 years in prison. He had previously been convicted of attacking two other officers using saliva as his “weapon” and had bitten two other inmates.
The three officers who have been spat on by Campbell have not contracted HIV. The HIV virus is spread primarily through sexual contact or the exchange of blood. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reports that “contact with saliva, tears or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV.”
The ruling in Campbell’s case simply feeds the public misconception that all contact with people living with the HIV virus can be deadly. Campbell’s conviction and sentence reinforces the incorrect assumption by many people that the HIV virus can be spread through contact with saliva.
In another case, this one from Mississippi, a wife is facing 10 years in prison because she met and married her husband five years after she learned that she was HIV positive and never disclosed this to her husband, according to the Clarion Ledger.
Mississippi’s law regulating exposure to HIV went into effect in 2004. It states:
“It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly expose another person to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Prior knowledge and willing consent to the exposure is a defense to a charge brought under this paragraph. A violation of this subsection shall be a felony.”
Shala Singleton Howell was married to Shannon Howell for more than four years and had a child with her before he accidentally discovered that she was HIV positive. Both Shannon and the child have tested negative for HIV.
Howell faces a 10 year prison sentence for knowingly exposing her husband and child to the HIV virus through sexual contact and the birth process, both known methods of HIV transmission. Campbell will spend many more years behind bars for spitting, while saliva is known not to transmit HIV.