Main | Monday, April 12, 2010

Olympic Equestrian Medalist Charged With Failure To Disclose HIV+ Status To Partner

Olympic equestrian medalist Darren Chiacchia has been charged under Florida's rarely-used law against failing to disclose HIV+ status to sex partners. Chiacchia's former boyfriend notified the police after finding personal medical documents in his home.
Mr. Chiacchia, who pleaded not guilty in February, faces up to 30 years in prison under a Florida law passed in 1997 that makes it a felony for people with H.I.V. to have sexual intercourse without informing their partners of their condition. His trial is scheduled to begin in June, his lawyer said. Florida is one of at least 32 states nationwide that have criminal statutes specific to H.I.V., many of which date to the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, when fear of spreading the disease was at its peak. As the science and treatment of H.I.V. and AIDS have changed considerably in the ensuing decades, fear of infection has subsided. However, the laws remain on the books, and prosecutors continue to enforce them. A recent survey by the Center for H.I.V. Law and Policy documented at least 50 cases nationwide since January 2008. But laws can be unevenly applied, even within a state. Although records show that at least 71 people have been arrested under Florida’s H.I.V. law since it was enacted, Mr. Chiacchia is believed to be the first in his five-county region to be prosecuted under the law, said the assistant state attorney handling the case.
Many HIV/AIDS activists oppose the notification laws on several grounds, including that it may deter people from learning their own status. In some of the prosecuted cases, those charged have claimed that they did indeed inform their partners and that their arrests were vindictive retribution for having been dumped.

In Chiacchia's case however, phone and email records indicate that he did purposely withhold his status. Chiacchia won the bronze medal for the United States at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In 2008 a brutal fall from his horse put him in an a long coma and ended his career, leaving him with a severe brain injury affecting his memory. It's not yet known if his lawyers will use his brain injury in his defense.

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