Wed | May 23, 2018

Man gets life sentence for deliberately transmitting HIV

Published:Monday | April 23, 2018 | 12:00 AM

On April 18, there were several websites that reported on the case involving a 27-year-old hairdresser named Darryl Rowe, who was sentenced to life in prison for infecting or attempting to infect men with HIV.

Rowe, who was diagnosed with HIV in April 2005, was said to have refused medical treatment and gone on a mission to lure men through a dating app into having unprotected sexual intercourse with him. There were 10 complainants, five of whom were infected with the disease and five others who managed to avoid contracting it.

During his trial before the Lewes Court in England for breaches of Section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (for causing or attempting to cause grievous bodily harm), evidence was given that Rowe denied that he had HIV and insisted on engaging in unprotected sex. For some of the men who refused to engage in unprotected sex with him, Rowe tampered with condoms by cutting the heads off or ripping them and tricked them into believing that they were engaging in safe sex.

In November 2017, Rowe was found guilty on all counts and was sentenced to life in prison. He must serve a mandatory period of 12 years. In handing down the sentence, the judge had very harsh words for Rowe, who taunted his victims by sending text messages to them after their encounters to then reveal his HIV status. The judge said, "Many of those men were young men in their 20s at the time they had the misfortune to meet you. Given the facts of this case and your permissive, predatory behaviour, I cannot see when you would no longer be a danger to gay men. In my judgement, the offences, taken together, are so serious that a life sentence is justified."

The Rowe decision has been described as the first of its kind. In previous cases, such as R v Dica [2004] 3 ALL ER 593, the accused was charged under Section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act for a misdemeanour. In Dica, it was found that the accused recklessly transmitted HIV to the victim, who had consented to having unprotected sexual intercourse. The victim, therefore, impliedly consented to the risk of HIV infection. In Rowe's case, however, he was charged with a felony under Section 18, and the evidence was that he deliberately attempted to infect his victims and exposed them to contracting the disease through trickery and sabotage.

Late last year, in California, USA, the penalty for knowingly exposing others to HIV was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanour. The rationale for making that move was that developments in modern medicine meant that persons infected with HIV are living longer lives with the potential to eliminate the possibility of transmission. For that reason, HIV should no longer be regarded as a life sentence, and it was felt that treating its transmission as a felony only served to discourage persons from being tested to ascertain their HIV status.

The life-altering effects of an HIV-positive diagnosis cannot be denied. However, there is room for debate as to which approach to dealing with the crime is more appropriate. What do you think?

- Sherry Ann McGregor is a partner, arbitrator and mediator in the firm of Nunes Scholefield DeLeon & Co. Please send questions and comments to lawsofeve@gmail.com or lifestyle@gleanerjm.com.