Dallas Prosecutor Claims Spittle is Deadly Weapon

Timothy Kincaid

June 4th, 2008

Willie Campbell is not a model citizen. He’s a homeless vagrant who has been in and out of prison and he regularly resists police efforts to enforce ordinances. But now Willie will not be bothering anyone but prison guards and inmates for a very long time. Willie was just given a 35 year sentence (Dallas Morning News).

For spitting.

You see, Willie has HIV and he spit at a police officer with some of his spittal landing in the officer’s mouth and eye.

Prosecutors convinced a Dallas County jury this week that HIV-positive saliva should be considered a deadly weapon.

Now you, I, and the Centers for Disease Control all know that there have been no known cases of HIV transmittal by means of spittle. And surely the Dallas County prosecutor knew that as well.

She just didn’t care.

But Dallas County prosecutor Jenni Morse, who handled Mr. Campbell’s case, said any risk level is sufficient for the deadly weapon finding used during the trial.

“No matter how minuscule, there is some risk,” said Ms. Morse. “That means there is the possibility of causing serious bodily injury or death,” the legal definition of a deadly weapon.

No matter how minuscule? By that standard, there is nothing that would not be a deadly weapon. What about cigarette smoke? Or sneezing?

But how fairly did the jury treat this “deadly weapon” of spittal? Interestingly, we have a comparison.

Mr. Campbell’s sentence was nearly double that given the same day to a man being tried in a courtroom next door. That man, De Leon Vanegas Jr., was sentenced to 18 years in prison for giving “cheese” heroin to a 15-year-old boy who died after using the drug. The jury in that case declared heroin a deadly weapon.

I believe that Jenni Morse is unethical. In her zeal to “put away a bad guy” she was willing to deceive a jury and play on fears and stereotypes. She doesn’t seem concerned in the slightest that she has heightened false fears and made the lives of all HIV positive citizens more difficult.

Who cares? She got her guy. He’s off the streets.

Now I agree that Campbell is a nuisance. And he most certainly should be charged with any crimes he committed. But criminalizing HIV status is, to me, a greater threat to the citizens than is sleeping on a sidewalk and spitting on an officer.

Regan DuCasse

June 4th, 2008

Indeed. Spitting is considered an assault, no question.
Only if the spitter has an injury to the mouth and blood is mixed in with the spit, could the charge have some legitimacy.
And poz blood that gets into the eyes would pose a risk of infection.
That is not mentioned here though, if this is the case.

Otherwise, I agree that the prosecutor IS fostering ignorance and bigotry against those who are HIV+.
And because of the station of her office, she shouldn’t be allowed to do so.

Pepe Johnson

June 4th, 2008

I think that HIV/AIDS is often treated as something other than a disease. While I don’t want to downplay the gravity of a positive diagnosis, I do think a lot of people, including this prosecutor, overreact to someone with HIV. You’re absolutely right when you talk about her this to play on fears and stereotypes.

What if the officer were HIV+ and the man had the pneumonia virus? Spitting on him could have also resulted in his death, so would the pneumonia virus be considered a deadly weapon. Even without a positive HIV status, pneumonia can be deadly.

Chad Johnson

June 4th, 2008

It’s plain to me, that saliva is not a deadly weapon, (nor is the HIV virus, really) and a good lawyer should be able to overturn a conviction of “assault with a deadly weapon”. He didn’t premedatatively devise any special technique or delivery system, and he’s entitled to have both saliva and mouth wherever he goes in our society. =P

However, it certainly was a simple assault, and if Willie admitted, or was properly proven to be hoping to infect the officer, then it seems fair to charge him for his intent, however successful that he was.

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