(Adds quotes from the hearing)
By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Feb 4 The Florida Supreme
Court heard arguments on Wednesday on the definition of sexual
intercourse in a test of a law requiring HIV-positive people to
tell partners of their status.
The case arose in Key West where Gary Debaun was charged in
2011 with falsely telling a man he did not have the virus before
they engaged in sex acts. Monroe County Circuit Judge Wayne
Miller dismissed the case, saying state law defined "sexual
intercourse" as male-female genital penetration.
The state appealed, arguing that the 1986 law requiring
HIV-infected people to inform their partners, which Debaun
violated, was intended to cover all sex acts, both homosexual
and heterosexual, even if it did not precisely define the nature
of sexual intercourse.
In large part that was because the law, which was intended
to curb the spread of venereal diseases, was written in
gender-neutral language, the state argued.
A district appeals court overturned Miller's ruling and
asked the Supreme Court to intervene.
Three justices in Wednesday's half-hour hearing raised
questions about whether the courts should broaden the dictionary
definition of a term used in a statute.
"No one is condoning what happened here," said Justice
Barbara Pariente. "The issue is whether it was criminal activity
as construed by the statute."
Assistant public defender Brian Ellison, representing
Debaun, said "the legislature is presumed to know" that other
states have spelled out specific acts in prohibiting all forms
of sexual contact without informed consent.
"We might agree that the legislature in general intended to
curb the spread of venereal diseases," he said. "But what the
legislature did was to use a narrow term."
Ellison said Florida lawmakers have been specific in other
laws, dealing with rape, incest and other offenses.
In a brief to the high court, Ellison stated the Florida
legislature and the courts "have always identified
penile-vaginal union as 'sexual intercourse' and distinguished
it from all other sexual contact," including homosexual acts or
Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Geldens of Miami said the
word intercourse is commonly understood to mean intimate
personal contacts. The statute was clearly intended to address
the threat to public health, he added.
"The fact that they may have been more specific doesn't mean
the general term itself is invalid," he said.
After hearing arguments, the seven justices usually take
months to issue rulings.
(Editing by David Adams and Sandra Maler)