Last July, his 30-year sentence for infecting one partner and exposing four others to HIV was declared as both barbaric and further criminalizing HIV. Yesterday, a Missouri appeals court ordered a new trial.
As we originally reported in May of 2015, Johnson was arrested on October 10, 2013 on charges of one count of recklessly infecting another with HIV, a Class A felony, and four counts of recklessly exposing someone to the risk of infection, a Class B felony for a total of five.
We followed the story to his sentencing hearing (see original post below) last July when he was remanded for 30 years. Health advocates and legal professionals were flummoxed to put it mildly. A combination of out-dated laws written during the height of the AIDS crisis in the ’80s, the lack of accountability of personal sexual behavior, and the prosecution of HIV+ people accomplished nothing in stopping the spread of the disease and if anything, discourages people from getting testing.
The panel ruled that the St. Charles County trial court last year abused its discretion by admitting excerpted recordings of phone calls Johnson made while jailed. Those recordings weren’t disclosed to Johnson’s attorneys until the morning of the first day of trial.
The court ruled that the prosecution’s violation was “knowing and intentional and was part of a trial-by-ambush strategy …,” Presiding Judge James M. Dowd wrote.”
Statutes like the one used to prosecute Mr. Johnson are inherently problematic, as they promote stigma and animus towards people living with HIV in violation of their legal and constitutional rights,” Johnson’s attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, which also supported Johnson, said the violation of Johnson’s right to a fair trial was “just the beginning” of trouble with the case, claiming the fact that Johnson was black and gay were factors in his conviction.
“The law under which he is charged is based on outdated science from a time when HIV policy was based on panic,” ACLU attorney Anthony Rothert said. “The prosecution used that fear, along with racism and homophobia, to get a conviction.”
We will continue to follow this case … watch this blog!
[Original Post – July 15, 2015]
A 30-year sentence was delivered yesterday for infecting one partner and exposing four others to HIV, and it officially makes Michael “Mandingo” Johnson an HIV criminal.
“Having unprotected sex is poor judgment, not a criminal act,” said The Center for HIV Law and Policy as quoted in The Nation. They note in addition to Missouri, 31 other states criminalize HIV exposure or transmission and, in some cases, still penalize after status disclosure or condom use. That, and the fact most of these laws were written at the height of the epidemic in the late 80s and 90s, advocates argue, have the unintended consequences of fostering the stigma and heighten the risk of transmission by scaring people today of getting tested.
As LaTrischa Miles of Missouri AIDS Task Force relayed to Poz.com,
“The state of Missouri spends significant resources encouraging its citizens to be tested for HIV. The state then prosecutes people who test positive for HIV and are unable to prove that they disclosed this to their sexual partners. That just doesn’t make sense.
Adding The Atlantic, “Laws that make exposing someone to HIV a criminal act are designed to stop the virus from spreading. But they don’t.” Boom. So what does?
We will never know if Johnson lied about his status. We will never know if his victims ever asked. We do know no one protected themselves. The Center for HIV Law & Policy calls that “victims put[ting] the government seal of approval on their avoidance of responsibility for personal decisions about their sex lives.”
And Mayo Schreiber, the center’s deputy director says, “Punishing Michael Johnson as if he is a murderer because state officials have failed to address a severely outdated, irrational criminal law is not only fundamentally unfair, it is barbaric.”
Drops mic …