Court of Appeals Decides that Defendant Who Gave HIV to Victim Did Not Act With Depraved Indifference
The facts of the case of People v. Williams are a sad reminder that even the people closest to us are capable of doing terrible things to us. According to the recitation of facts by the Court of Appeals, “the victim and defendant Terrance Williams became friends in July 2010. Their friendship turned intimate sometime later in the summer, when they engaged in anal sexual conduct. During their early sexual encounters, the victim and defendant used protection; however, they eventually had unprotected sex. The first time this happened, the victim reached for a condom only to have defendant take the condom away from him. The victim asked defendant four times if it was safe for them to engage in unprotected sex, and defendant reassured him that it was. Prior to this occasion, the victim and defendant had frequently discussed the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the need to be careful to avoid infection.”
At some point after the victim and Mr. Williams had unprotected sex, Mr. Williams informed the victim that he may have HIV. In response to this disclosure, the victim broke off the relationship. A short time later, the victim became ill, and learned that he too had contracted HIV. After learning this grave news, the victim (whose name was not disclosed for privacy reasons) confronted the defendant through social media, where the defendant admitted that at the time they had unprotected sex, he knew that he was sick with HIV and lied to the victim about not being infected. Mr. Williams stated in his correspondence that, “i made my biggest mistake the night i said i didn’t want to use a condom knowing my status but still being so deep in love with you that i wanted us to be one person… i was selfish and i was more so concerned with my own false happiness than you [sic] health.”
After this revelation, the victim went to law enforcement and the government indicted the defendant with the crimes of Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree, and Assault in the Third Degree. Upon reviewing the Grand Jury proceedings, the trial level court reduced the top count to Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree finding that 1) the defendant did not act with a Depraved Indifference to Human Life, and 2) with the advances in medical treatment, an infection by HIV does not necessarily create a grave risk of death anymore.
The Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, granted leave to appeal after the Appellate Division, for the Fourth Department (Western New York) affirmed the trial level court’s reduction of the charges.
The Court of Appeals did not reach the issue of whether or not HIV creates a grave risk of death because they agreed with the lower appellate court and the trial court that the facts did not make out the state of mind of Depraved Indifference. The Court held that where the conduct is directed at only one person, the defendant exhibits wanton cruelty, brutality or callousness directed against a particularly vulnerable victim, combined with utter indifference to the life or safety of the helpless target of the perpetrator’s inexcusable acts. Under the circumstances of this case, the Court did not believe that there was a “malevolent desire for the victim to contract the virus, or that he was utterly indifferent to the victim’s fate.”
Based on this decision, one can infer that if the defendant had infected a number of people in the same fashion, the Court may have reached a different decision.
Read the original decision here.
People v Williams