Personal Responsibility is the Bigger Issue in Maryland HIV Case
By Kush Arora, Maryland criminal defense attorney
October 13, 2014
According to news reports that broke over the weekend, Daniel Cleaves, 28, of Virginia has been charged in Maryland for allegedly trying to infect a Maryland woman with HIV. The story is understandably one that will generate many headlines as there are few medical phrases that trigger the same terror and fear as HIV. Nonetheless, the lack of balanced reporting in the initial coverage of Mr. Cleaves’ arrest is deeply troubling.
There is much more to this story than preliminary court documents that are based entirely on one woman’s claims. As a criminal defense attorney who has worked my entire adult life to ensure the criminal justice system is equitable to all who are charged, I think it’s my duty to step forward and point out some basic facts in the interest of equity.
According to various reports, the woman involved in the case went to police on July 31, 2014, a week after meeting Cleaves’ at a bar in Bethesda. The night they met, the pair went to her parents’ home in Darnestown, where she was dog sitting. The woman apparently told authorities that the two had consensual sex that evening, July 25, 2014. She said that she was taking birth control pills and Cleaves did not use a condom. They went on to spend the following several days together, having unprotected sex at least seven times both at her parents’ home and her home in Silver Spring.
On July 28, 2014, the woman said she took Cleaves to an alcohol treatment center in Washington, DC. She then took him back to her home when, she said, the center didn’t have room for him. The following day, July 29, 2014, Cleaves left for work, leaving his belongings at the woman’s home. She said he called her a little while later and asked her to get his birth certificate and bring it to him downstairs. Gazette.Net reported that it was while she was looking for the birth certificate that the woman claimed she found “a medical document indicating that Cleaves was HIV positive, according to charging documents.”
The Gazette goes on to report that the woman did not confront Cleaves when she brought him his birth certificate, but waited until later that day to send him some text messages saying “she had read the medical paper and was going to the hospital. Cleaves responded, initially denying that he was HIV positive, but soon apologized.” The news story notes that the woman waited another two days before filing a report with Montgomery County police on July 31, 2014.
All of the reporting so far has been based on the preliminary charging documents filed with the court. It’s not surprising, as that is often all that is available in the initial stages of a case. It’s crucial, however, for the media and the public to realize that none of the information contained in the documents has been subject to the scrutiny of a criminal trial, or even a preliminary proceeding, to determine the validity of any of the woman’s claims.
There is, however, a greater public safety issue I feel compelled to address. The initial news reports have pointedly quoted or paraphrased the charging documents claiming Cleaves never wore a condom or brought up the issue of protection. There is also no mention of the woman ever broaching the subject of protection. These were, according to the woman’s statements in the charging documents, incidents of consensual intercourse conducted many times over a period of several days. The woman let the man stay in her home and her parents’ home. She took him, according to her claims, to an alcohol treatment center. Clearly there was ample opportunity for the woman to broach the topic of sexual history, medical history, and many other issues that responsible, sexually active individuals discuss before engaging in sex. In a consensual relationship, even a brief one, we all share the responsibility to practice safe or protected sex.
Ultimately, the question of whether or not there was any criminal behavior will be decided by a judge or a jury. To argue the legal issues in the court of public opinion is damaging to the integrity of the case and achieves nothing of value. What is worthy of our time and discussion is figuring out how we can ensure our schools and public health departments are promoting and providing comprehensive sex education. The only way to stop the spread of HIV, or any communicable disease, is through effective and consistent education and outreach. Focusing specifically on HIV, the prevention methods are numerous and the scientific breakthroughs in treatment for those infected, as well as pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis, are truly astounding. There is a reason, however, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stresses repeatedly that the main tools in HIV prevention are “limiting your sexual partners, never sharing needles, and using condoms correctly and consistently… .” It all comes down to everyone taking the responsibility to ensure our individual health is protected.