Supreme Court to consider overturning state AIDS law



SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP)—Lawyers told the Illinois Supreme Court Wednesday to overturn the state’s anti-AIDS law because the statute’s vagueness means motherhood and health care work could be criminal acts.

‘‘There is no rational basis for what the Legislature did,’‘ professor Michael Closen told the court. ‘‘It makes motherhood unlawful. It makes practicing medicine unlawful.

‘‘It criminalizes kissing people,’‘ he said of the statute.

The 1989 Illinois law allows state prosecutors to charge someone with a felony if that person knows he or she is infected with the deadly virus and yet engages in activities that could transmit it.

Prosecutors don’t have to prove a person actually infected the other person, and penalties can range from three to seven years in prison.

Gerry Arnold, an attorney with the state’s attorneys appellate prosecutor, said the law spells out that you can’t engage in intimate contact, trade drug needles or donate blood or organs.

Closen and Harvey Grossman, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the law should define what constitutes intimate contact and outline how someone knows when they have the AIDS virus.

‘‘It is because you have some symptoms—night sweats, weight loss swollen lymph nodes?’‘ Closen asked.

Arnold said the law works because it is designed for people ‘‘of ordinary intelligence’‘ to define what forbidden conduct would be.

Closen said he agrees with the intent of the law—to prosecute people who maliciously try to transmit a fatal disease—but said the Illinois Legislature should rewrite it to be specific.

If a woman is pregnant and then discovers she has the HIV virus, she could be in danger of criminal prosecution because she is transmitting bodily fluids to a fetus, said attorney Gregg Bonelli.

‘‘Now she’s a criminal and the only way not to be a criminal under this statute would be to get an abortion,’‘ Bonelli said.

The case stemmed from two downstate residents, Caretha Russell and Timothy Lunsford, who challenged the law in separate cases.

Russell, 20, of Belleville, was charged with four counts of criminal transmission of HIV in December 1991. Court records show she had sex with a man four times during a week in October 1991.

Lunsford was charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old Mattoon woman. Lunsford’s lawyer, Bonelli, said his client is innocent. He said the woman consented to having sexual relations with his client.

The charges of criminal transmission were dismissed and higher courts upheld those decisions in both cases, Closen said.

The state appealed and the Supreme Court justices said Wednesday they would take the cases under advisement.