MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - In a split decision Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of an HIV-positive man who was accused of passing the virus to another man through unprotected sex, ruling that the statute was ambiguous.
Daniel James Rick, 31, was convicted last October of attempted first-degree assault under a statute that makes it a crime to knowingly transfer a communicable disease through "sexual penetration with another person without having first informed the other person" of his positive status.
The statue also makes it illegal to spread the disease by transferring "blood, sperm, organs or tissue, except as deemed necessary for medical research or if disclosed on donor screening forms."
Rick was acquitted under the first part of the statute, because the jury found he disclosed he was HIV positive before having sex with his alleged victim in 2009, but was convicted under the second section.
Rick's attorneys argued the second section applies only to medical procedures and "any other interpretation yields absurd results," the appeals court decision said. The state disagreed, saying the second section applies to sexual penetration.
"Under the state's interpretation, an act of sexual penetration that results in a transfer of sperm is always a basis for criminal liability, regardless of any pre-penetration disclosure of the presence of a communicable disease," Judge Michelle Larkin wrote for the majority.
Larkin added that while the Legislature generally intended to prevent the spread of communicable disease, the court found little support showing the Legislature clearly "intended to prevent the spread of disease by criminalizing informed sexual penetration between consenting adults."
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the state believes the intent of the law was clear, and he plans to appeal. In addition, he said, the state will proceed with two other criminal sex cases against Rick, which were charged under different statutes.
"Mr. Rick is a very dangerous man, who knew he was HIV positive, running around and giving it to people," Freeman said.
Rick's attorney, Grant Smith, said he was happy the court ruling showed that if a person with a communicable disease informs his or her partner, it is not a crime to engage in consensual sex.
Judge Larry Collins was the lone dissenter Monday. He wrote that the statute is clear, and a reasonable person would understand he may engage in unprotected sex as long as he discloses if he has a disease, but should not transfer sperm to the other person.