About a year and a half ago, Michael L. Johnson found himself embroiled in a terrible controversy after being convicted of a felony for failing to disclose his HIV status to a partner. Johnson had been sentenced to 30 years in prison for his crimes. Now, after considerable outrage from the LGBTQ community, the conviction has been overturned.
Specifically, Johnson was convicted of "three crimes, all felonies under Missouri law: one count of recklessly infecting a sexual partner with HIV, one count of recklessly exposing a partner to HIV and three counts of attempting to recklessly infect a partner with HIV." Johnson had learned of his HIV status in 2013 and did not disclose that status to an unnamed sexual partner who he infected. The anonymous partner reported that Johnson had been using hookup apps and not informing others of his situation, leading to Johnson's arrest.
According to The Washington Post, a panel of appeals court judges reviewed the case and found the original trial to be "fundamentally" unfair "by using cellphone recordings that 'were not disclosed to the defense until the morning of the first day of the trial.'"
Johnson had originally plead not guilty to the charges, claiming he did, in fact, inform his partners of his status. Recordings of conversations he had in jail suggested, however, that he was only "pretty sure."
LGBTQ advocates noted the outdatedness of the laws, which were put into place before HIV was as treatable as it is today.
“The social stigma of being black, gay and HIV-positive was furthered in a courtroom where Judge Cunningham adjudicates through the frame of 1987 laws that respond largely to public panic rather than grounded science,” wrote Jeffrey Q. McCune, a Washington University gender and African American studies professor, in an op-ed in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch after Johnson’s sentencing.
Johnson's troubles aren't over, though. He now faces an entirely new trial in the near future.
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