Missouri Man Sentenced To 10 Years In Prison For Spreading HIV

An HIV-positive former college wrestler from was sentenced in Missouri to 10 years in prison for knowingly transmitting HIV to one man and exposing four others to the virus.

Michael Johnson, 25, also known as « Tiger Mandingo, » pleaded no contest to the charges Thursday, reports said.

A no contest plea is used in criminal proceedings as an alternative to a guilty or not guilty plea in which the defendant neither disputes nor admits committing the crime.

Johnson was convicted in May 2015 in St. Charles County Court, a mostly white suburb west of St. Louis. He was charged with « knowingly » transmitting HIV to one man and exposing four other men to the virus who did not contract it, reports said.

He was sentenced to 30.5 years in prison, but in December, an appeals court overturned his conviction, citing prosecutorial misconduct after prosecutors failed to hand over recordings of Johnson’s calls from prison to defense attorneys till the trial day.

The phone call recordings were a crucial piece of evidence as it featured Johnson discussing about whether he had disclosed his HIV condition to his sexual partners or not.

The court blamed the prosecution for failing to give over the recordings to defense attorney and ruled that its violation was « knowing and intentional and was part of a trial-by-ambush strategy …, » Presiding Judge James M. Dowd wrote, according to New York Daily News.

Johnson’s case had drawn nationwide attention as he is one of the most highly publicized targets of controversial HIV laws that make it a crime for HIV-positive people to have sex without first disclosing that they have the virus.

Legal reform groups and gay rights activists have argued that HIV criminalization is outdated, partially because of advancements made in treatments for the disease.

In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri even said that Johnson’s race and sexuality (black and gay) played a big part in his conviction, NBC News reported.

In May 2015, Thomas Miguel Guerra, a 30-year-old man from San Diego was sentenced to six months in prison for knowingly spreading HIV. In 2011, a 51-year-old man surrendered himself to authorities and claimed to have intentionally infected “thousands” of partners with the virus, according to the Washington Post.

During the early years of the HIV epidemic, several states implemented HIV-specific criminal exposure laws. These laws put criminal penalties on those who were living with HIV, knew their condition and yet exposed others to the virus.

In 1990, the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act — the legislation created the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program — required every state to certify that its criminal laws were adequate to prosecute any HIV-infected person exposing the virus to others intentionally, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

An analysis done by CDC and the Department of Justice found that by 2011, 67 laws explicitly focusing on persons living with HIV had been enacted in 33 states. However, these laws varied as to what behaviors were criminalized or would demand additional penalties.

In 24 states, HIV laws require the virus-infected persons to disclose their status to sexual partners. In 14 states, laws require HIV-infected persons to disclose their status to needle-sharing partners. Twenty five states criminalize one or more behaviors that pose a low or negligible risk for HIV transmission, according to the CDC website.