Twenty-three year-old HIV-positive man Michael L. Johnson facing decades in prison underscores danger of fear-based laws
LOS ANGELES (June 3, 2015) — Today the AHF Black AIDS Crisis Taskforce (ABACT) issued the following statement on a Missouri jury convicting 23-year-old HIV-positive college wrestler Michael L. Johnson on felony charges that he knowingly exposed four male sexual partners to the virus and infected a fifth man with HIV. The mostly white St. Charles jury convicted Johnson on 5 of 6 counts against him and recommended that he serve more than 60 years in prison at his sentencing scheduled for July 23. According to the St. Charles County prosecutor’s office, a judge will conduct a sentencing assessment report and decide whether to accept, reject, or modify the jury’s sentence:
It’s utterly sad and shocking that, in 2015, a person living with HIV can be sentenced to spend decades in prison due to laws criminalizing HIV—especially considering that these laws were passed in a fear-driven environment when little was understood about preventing and treating the disease. While we fully support the notion that a person should disclose his/her HIV status before engaging in sexual contact, we also recognize the role that stigma and discrimination plays in a person’s decision to withhold or even lie about this information. Yet in the 32 states that have HIV-specific criminal statutes on their books—most of which carry felony charges—what’s being meted out for people living with HIV is unfair judgment, not justice.
Much like the lengthy and discriminatory mandatory minimum drug sentences that ruined thousands of lives in our nation and are now, thankfully, being overturned, so must we also challenge state laws that criminalize HIV. As yet another person faces spending the rest of his life behind bars due to these statutes, we’re even more determined to work to overturn these harmful laws that are based in ignorance and fear.
– Christopher Johnson, AHF Associate Director of Communications and Black AIDS Crisis Taskforce Co-Chair