Decision: State v. Richardson

June 19th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in State v. Richardson (Nos. 100,445 and 100,835). In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Lee Johnson the Court reversed Robert William Richardson’s convictions on two counts of engaging in sexual intercourse to expose another to a life threatening disease.

Richardson is infected with HIV, and has been undergoing treatment for over a decade for the virus. In October 2005 he had sex with two women (referred to as M.K. and E.Z.) without any form of protection. Kansas Law criminalizes the act of intentionally exposing another to a life threatening disease while knowingly infected. Richardson was convicted in a Bench Trial and sentenced to two consecutive sentences.

The Kansas Supreme Court reversed his conviction. It found that the crime as written by the legislature is a crime of specific intent, i.e. one where the State bears the burden of proving that Richardson by his actions intended to expose the women to HIV. The Court based its ruling on the plain text of the statute which reads:

“To engage in sexual intercourse or sodomy with another individual with the intent to
expose that individual to that life threatening communicable disease.”

The Court rejected the State’s argument that by virtue of being HIV-positive any sexual act on Richardson’s part would meat this intent test. The Court also rejected the State’s argument that it would be too hard for the prosecution to prove this form of intent, noting that many crimes involve the prosecution weighing in on a defendants state of mind. The Court observed that circumstantial evidence could be used for doing this and that at the preliminary hearing in this case there had been evidence mentioned which could have proven this point. The Court describes the failure to use this evidence at trial “inexplicable”, since it would potentially have been enough to affirm Richardson’s conviction.

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