At a medical clinic in the Mohawk Valley village of Ilion, New York in 2006, an HIV-infected man named David Plunkett punched a police officer and bit his finger. There was question as to whether or not Plunkett’s infected saliva was extremely dangerous for the officer, whose skin was broken by the bite and had to take antiviral for months afterward. He did not become HIV-infected. New York’s top court made their decision on Thursday.
They found the saliva does not constitute a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument under state law. According to the Associated Press, the court unanimously said saliva should be treated the same as teeth, which it concluded in 1999 do not qualify as dangerous instruments because body parts come with the defendant and cannot heighten their criminal liability beyond the victim’s injury. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote the following decision:
“Because defendant’s saliva too `came with him’ – indeed with his teeth – its utility for penal enhancement may not be treated differently.”
The six other judges on the case agreed.
This decision made Herkimer County Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Carpenter uneasy for the safety of others. He pointed out Plunkett also urinated, defecated, and bled during the struggle with the officers and believes the court’s ruling applies not just to all body parts but all body fluids:
“I think the decision will place not only the general public but certainly our first responders – be it police, firefighters, EMTs or paramedics – in grave danger in the future.”
Audrey Dunning, Plunkett’s attorney, was thrilled for her client and “for everyone who is similarly situated. [She] believes it’s just a just and fair decision. It’s in line with prevailing science.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control finds HIV transmissions from bites are “very rare,” though in circumstances where there is blood-to-blood contact, infection has occurred. The agency goes on to reassure everyone that there were “numerous reports of bites that did not cause HIV infection.”
As for 48 year-old David Plunkett, he is currently serving a 10-year sentence in Sing Sing. But like the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund told the court, his HIV status will not allow him to face extra criminal sanctions or enhanced penalties. He still has to serve the time but he will not be discriminated against.
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