The case of State vs. Stark revealed the problem of dangerous behavior from the part of Stark, who had HIV and refused to obey to cease and to desist order established by the law, although he was well-informed about issues related to his condition and potential threat he exposed his partners to. At the same time, this case played an important part in the further development of the legislation regulating behavior of people infected with dangerous diseases, such as HIV. In fact, the case raised not only legal but also moral problems related to the choice of individuals with HIV between the normal sexual life, on the one hand, and obedience to existing legal norms and the threat of isolation, on the other. Stark preferred to violate existing legal norms but he exposed his partners to serious risks.
At this point, it is important to dwell upon key facts concerning the case. In fact, Stark was diagnosed with HIV. Being HIV positive he was well informed by his doctor, Locke about the safe sex and importance of following his recommendations, as otherwise, Stark would expose his partners to serious risks of the contamination with HIV. Nevertheless, Stark neglected Dr. Locke’s recommendations and refused following recommendations on safe sex. Instead, he had at least three cases of sexual intercourse without using condoms exposing his partners to the risk of contamination. On the first count, the victim of Stark was involved in sexual intercourse twice. On the second count, Stark had at least six sexual intercourses, among which he used condoms only twice or thrice. On the third count, Stark had sexual relationships with his partner and totally neglected safe sex recommendations. In response to such behavior, Dr. Locke issued a cease and desist order as authorized by the law. As a result, Stark was charged with three counts of assault in the second degree under RCW 9A.36.021(1)(e) which provided in relevant part: A person is guilty of assault in the second degree if he or she, under circumstances not amounting to assault in the first degree: … (e) With intent to inflict bodily harm, exposes or transmits human immunodeficiency virus.
In such a way, several issues arose before the case. First, Stark was well informed of the fact that he was HIV positive and, therefore, could contaminate his partners with the virus. Second, he neglected the risk and had sexual intercourses with his partners, regardless of recommendations of his doctor. Third, he did not contaminate either of his partners among the three counted. Fourth, the risk of the contamination was real, taking into consideration the diagnosis of Stark. His behavior was apparently dangerous for the public because he was not intending to stop avoiding safe sex. Dr. Locke acted respectively to legal norms. He informed his patient and issued cease and desist order as soon as he learned that his patient did not follow his recommendations on safe sex. Moreover, he warned the patient that coitus interruptus would not prevent the spread of the virus. Therefore, he did all he had to do as the doctor, but patient neglected his recommendations.
Obviously, Stark acted in a dangerous way. At the same time, he did not inform his partners that he was HIV positive. In contrast, he told the first partner about his diagnosis only after the second sexual intercourse, the second after the sixth, while the third victim was informed only after a month of intimate relationships. Moreover, in case of the third count, Stark denied the fact that he was HIV positive, ensuring the victim that he was not, although that was not true.
In addition, Stark talked to his neighbors and told that he did not regret about his actions and he was ready to carry on his life style, even though he was aware of his diagnosis. In such a way, he implied that he would not stop his practice and he could have more partners and more sexual intercourses that could be not safe in regard to their health. Therefore, the behavior of Stark became quite dangerous and the public health could have been under a threat, if Stark carried on his lifestyle.
On the other hand, Stark considered evidence that he exposed anyone to HIV or that he acted with intent to inflict bodily harm insufficient. However, this was the personal opinion of Stark and it was quite different from his actions. In this respect, the opinion of Dr. Locke was very important because he was a health care professionals, who was aware of potential risks and threats Stark exposed his partners to. In this regard, Stark exposed his victims to real threat of catching HIV and his actions were dangerous.
In such a context, the Court’s decision and rationale seems to be quite reasonable because the court found Stark guilty. However, the sentence Stark obtained was quite unexpected and probably exaggerated. What is meant here is the fact that Stark got 120 months that is ten years term that was apparently too long compared to average terms that offenders committing similar crimes obtained. As a rule, offenders with similar cases got varied from 13 to 17. This was the sentence of 120 months on account one, while average term was 13-17 months. On counts two and three, Stark was given the low end of the standard range, 43 months each, to be served concurrently, but consecutively to the count one. As a result, Stark was given an exceptional sentence for his actions. The justification of such exceptional sentence was grounded on the public danger of Stark. To put it more precisely, in the course of the trial, it became obvious that Stark was not going to follow recommendations on safe sex. Therefore, if he carried on his lifestyle, he could contaminate his partners with HIV that would apparently increase the risk of the development of AIDS and death of Stark’s potential victims. The court probably took into consideration the conversation of Stark with his neighbors, when he told that he did not care about his partners and was going to carry on having sexual intercourses with other partners, regardless of his diagnosis and neglecting recommendations on safe sex. As a result, the court’s decision was driven by public safety’s concerns and the court attempted to protect the public from potential danger of spreading HIV by Stark.
At the same time, the court’s decision was not absolutely exceptional. In fact, it is possible to refer to some standards relied on, although there were some new standards established by the case. To put it more precisely, the second and third counts were taken into consideration by the court and Stark was given with the lower end of the standard range for the offense committed by Stark. In this regard, the court referred to existing practices. As for the first account, the sentence was exceptional, although it is possible to refer to State v. Farmer case (1991), when the offender was given seven years sentence based on finding of deliberate cruelty where defendant knowingly exposed his two minor victims to HIV.
Nevertheless, the latter case was still quite different from the case of Stark because his victims were not minors and he did not consider that he exposed anyone to HIV. In such a context, the State vs. Stark case established new standards in regard to sentencing offenders exposed their victims to HIV. The exceptionally severe sentence laid the foundation to severe measures being undertaken in cases of the contamination with HIV. In fact, this case created the precedent of severe sentences to offenders committing such crimes as Stark did.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the case of State vs. Stark was very important in regard to the development of legislation concerning the prevention of contamination of HIV and other serious diseases. Stark was given exceptionally long sentence but the court was driven by public safety’s concerns because Stark was either unaware of the threat he exposed his victims to or just unwilling to accept such threat and change his behavior for safer.
Albonetti, C. A. An integration of theories to explain judicial discretion. So¬cial Problems, 38, 1991, 247-266.
Albonetti, C. A. Sentencing under the federal sentencing guidelines: Effects of defendant characteristics, guilty pleas, and departures on sentence outcomes for drug offenses. Law and Society Review, 31, 1997, 789-822.
State v. Stark, 832 P.2d 109 (Wash. App. 1992).