House Courts of Justice Committee Scheduled to Address Bill at Meeting Tomorrow Afternoon

The ACLU of Virginia is asking the House Courts of Justice Committee to vote down a bill that would dramatically expand mandatory testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in Virginia. The civil liberties group believes that HB 954, sponsored by Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches because it requires testing for STDs whenever probable cause has been found that a person has committed a crime “motivated by or closely related to the use of drugs.”
“No one will argue with the good intentions of this bill,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis, “but the government can’t just order the drawing of blood from thousands of people who have not committed any crime because it is interested in learning more about sexually transmitted diseases.”
According to an ACLU of Virginia memo sent to the House Courts of Justice Committee, the bill is flawed in several ways: First, the broad and vaguely defined universe of people targeted by the bill will result in testing many individuals who are not in a risk category for sexually transmitted diseases. Second, the bill assumes guilt by ordering testing upon a finding of probable cause, not after conviction.
Third and most importantly, the bill violates the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that mandatory searches involving the taking of blood or urine be narrowly targeted to situations where there is probable cause to believe the test will yield evidence of a crime. According to the ACLU, the searches conducted pursuant to this law would not qualify for the rarely used “special needs” exemption from the Fourth Amendment, which allows some broad based searches when the purpose is to thwart an imminent, predictable threat to health of safety.
“The way we read this bill, a doctor arrested for writing an illegal prescription or a high school student picked up for possession of marijuana would have to undergo tests for STDs,” added Willis. “Not only might these individuals be innocent of the crime for which they were arrested, but there appears to be no relationship whatsoever between these crimes and the spread of STDs. We will certainly be looking for plaintiffs to challenge this bill if it becomes law.”
A House Courts of Justice subcommittee met last night and decided not to recommend approval of the bill by the full committee. A copy of the ACLU’s memo to the House Courts of Justice Committee is found at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20040212-HB-954-STD-Testing.pdf.

Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022

Aimee Perron, Legislative Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022

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