A 25-Year-Old's High-Profile HIV Conviction Is Tossed

Appeals court find trial court did indeed 'abuse its discretion'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 21, 2016 1:59 PM CST
Updated Dec 25, 2016 7:21 AM CST
A 25-Year-Old's High-Profile HIV Conviction Is Tossed
This Oct 10, 2013 file booking photo released by St. Charles County Department of Corrections show Michael L. Johnson.   (St. Charles County Department of Corrections via AP)

With HIV no longer a death sentence, decades-old HIV laws and the heavy sentences they carry have become more contentious. A prime and much publicized example was that of Michael L. Johnson, now 25, a Lindenwood University wrestling star at the time of his 2013 arrest who is serving 30.5 years for "recklessly" infecting a male partner with HIV and exposing four others to it. Or, was: On Tuesday, a new trial was ordered for Johnson by a Missouri appeals court, which overturned his conviction after finding the trial court did indeed "abuse its discretion" in airing portions of jailhouse phone calls Johnson made that the defense didn't get access to until the morning of the trial's first day. In Missouri's case, not disclosing your HIV status to a partner, as Johnson's accusers alleged and he denied, can be a felony.

The ACLU of Missouri is backing Johnson, and as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, flagged what it (and others) perceive to be problems with the conviction and sentence: that the "law under which he is charged is based on outdated science." Critics of such laws cite significant medical advances and note that while the person with HIV faces legal repercussions, the partner who chose to have unprotected sex does not, reported BuzzFeed last year. BuzzFeed separately reports on what was in those taped calls: Johnson saying his level of confidence that he had alerted his partners to his status was "pretty sure." The court pointed out it was "the only evidence in the record of Johnson stating to anyone that he was not certain," making it "highly prejudicial evidence" that Johnson's defense should have had time to prepare to for. (This woman fights to keep the man who gave her HIV behind bars.)

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