Sunday, September 24, 2017

UPDATE: Michael Johnson Accepts 10-Year Plea Deal In HIV Transmission Case

There is an update in the infamous Michael Johnson case: where a 23-year-old Black gay man was sentenced to 30 years in prison under Missouri's discriminatory HIV criminalization statute after a trial influenced by homophobia and racism. Happily, the 30-year sentence was overturned last year.
The news comes that Johnson has agreed to a plea deal where he gets a 10-year prison sentence (including the 4 years he has already served). He is entering an "Alford plea" which says that he agrees that the state has enough evidence to convict him of a crime.

The Center for HIV Law and Public Policy issued a press release on the Johnson case:
New York, NY, September 21, 2017 – Today, in conclusion to a prosecution short on fairness and riddled with questions about racism and homophobia, Michael Johnson entered a plea in the St. Charles County Circuit Court in Missouri. Earlier this year, a state appeals court vacated his original conviction due to prosecutorial misconduct that, according to the court, made Johnson’s first trial “fundamentally unfair.” 
However, because Missouri’s HIV criminal law hinges liability on whether or not the defendant can prove he disclosed his HIV status prior to sex – a virtual impossibility in most instances – Johnson decided to accept a plea deal that credits him with time served. Under Missouri’s law, one of the harshest in the country, Johnson could have faced up to 96 years in prison if found guilty. 
“It is disturbing that Michael is not yet a free man and was not exonerated after his years-long struggle for justice, but we respect and support his decision not to risk a life behind bars,” said Mayo Schreiber, Deputy Director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP). “It likely is the end of his case, but our work to bring an end to HIV criminal laws like Missouri’s continues.” 
Johnson, who was 21-years-old at the beginning of this case, entered a no-contest plea to charges that he had sex with partners without first advising them of his HIV status. In exchange, he has accepted a sentence of 10 years in state prison, which will include time already served since his arrest nearly four years ago.  He previously had been sentenced to 30 years in prison before the appeals court threw out the original conviction. 
Prior to his arrest in 2013, Johnson was a promising young college student and star athlete. His prosecution has drawn condemnation from state and national organizations and individuals uniformly outraged by his conviction and opposed to these fundamentally unfair laws being used to prosecute people living with HIV and, disproportionately, like all other criminal laws in the United States, people of color.
In related news, this week the California state legislature passed SB 239, which modernizes the state's laws around HIV transmission so that HIV is treated like other communicable diseases.

Hat tip to TowleRoad

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