College Wrestler’s HIV Conviction Thrown Out - Gay City News | Gay City News College Wrestler’s HIV Conviction Thrown Out - Gay City News | Gay City News
Quantcast

College Wrestler’s HIV Conviction Thrown Out

Michael  L. Johnson's conviction was thrown out based on the finding he not get a fair trial. | PREVENTIONJUSTICE.ORG

Michael L. Johnson’s conviction was thrown out based on the finding he not get a fair trial. | PREVENTIONJUSTICE.ORG

BY ARTHUR S. LEONARD | The Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals has reversed the jury conviction of Michael L. Johnson, an HIV-positive African-American man, on felony charges of recklessly infecting another man with HIV and exposing others to HIV, for which he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The appeals court found in a December 20 ruling that the prosecution violated court discovery rules by ambushing Johnson at trial with selective excerpts from recordings of telephone conversations he had in jail, thus depriving him of a fair trial.

The St. Charles County prosecutor now has to decide whether to retry Williams, who was convicted in May 2015 for events that occurred in 2013.

Johnson, a championship high school wrestler from Indianapolis, moved to St. Charles, Missouri, in 2012 to attend Lindenwood University, where he had had been recruited for the wrestling team. On January 7, 2013, he went to the student clinic complaining of perianal warts and seeking STD testing. He tested positive for gonorrhea and HIV.

Missouri appeals court finds Michael Johnson was ambushed by evidence state withheld

A few weeks later, Johnson had unprotected oral and anal sex with another Lindenwood student whom he had met on social media. That student, who testified at the trial that Johnson had not disclosed he was HIV-positive, experienced symptoms a few weeks later, went to a hospital emergency room, and was diagnosed with gonorrhea and HIV. After a follow-up HIV test, doctors informed the student that his HIV infection was recent. The student testified he had been abstinent for a year before having sex with Johnson, so Johnson was the only person who could have infected him.

The student contacted Johnson and they met in Johnson’s dorm room, where the student told Johnson he was HIV-positive and they had sex again. The student maintains that Johnson still did not disclose he was HIV-positive. When the student noticed that Johnson’s social networking profiles continued to not disclose that he was HIV-positive, he contacted the St. Charles Police Department, whose investigation turned up five other people who had sex with Johnson, all of whom claimed Johnson had not disclosed his status.

In his jury trial, Johnson admitted when he learned of his HIV diagnosis, so the critical issue was whether he had disclosed to his sexual partners. Johnson testified he had informed each of them before engaging in sex, except for one man he had sex with before learning of his infection. 

Prosecutors impeached Johnson’s testimony by playing excerpts from the jail telephone recordings, in which Johnson stated that he was worried that people would not want to be his friend if they learned about his HIV status, that he was “pretty sure” he had disclosed his HIV status to his sexual partners, and that he was “unsure” about how to tell people about his status. This summary in the court’s opinion of the prejudicial statements extracted from more than 24 hours of telephone calls does not indicate who the other parties were on the calls and whether all three statements came from the same call.

Johnson’s trial lawyer had objected to the introduction of these edited recordings, which were only revealed to her the morning the trial opened, May 11, 2015. The prosecutor claimed that the information had been sent to the defense lawyer’s office the previous Friday, a state holiday when her office was closed. Eighteen months before, the defense, following court rules, had requested discovery of “any written or recorded statements and the substance of any oral statements made by the defendant” relevant to the charges against him. The prosecutor is obligated to respond within 10 days and supplement its response with any new relevant information it acquires. That duty extends to include any information that might be obtained through reasonable inquiry.

The 24 hours of recordings of Johnson’s phone calls included two calls from as far back as October 2013, just weeks before the defense filed its discovery request, and one call from just a few days before the request. Yet the state waited a year and a half to turn this information over, and even then played games to avoid defense counsel learning of them until the morning the trial started by sending them over on a Friday holiday before a weekend. Defense counsel objected, but the trial judge overruled, stating the defense had a few days in possession of the recordings before they were offered in evidence and so was not prejudiced.

The jury convicted Johnson on every count except the charge involving the man he had sex with prior to learning he was positive. In addition to the 30-year sentence for infecting one other student, he received 14 years for recklessly exposing another person, and five and a half years on each of three charges of “attempting” to expose other people, with the sentences to run concurrently.

Johnson raised two issues on appeal. First, he challenged the fairness of his trial because of the state’s “ambush” tactics with the recording. Second, he claimed that the prison sentence was “grossly disproportionate” to the offenses, in violation of the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Because the appeals court agreed with his first issue, it did not rule on the Eighth Amendment claim – the one of greater substantive concern regarding cases of this type.

The state candidly admitted before the appeals court that it “intentionally withheld the recordings from the defense to gain a strategic advance,” wrote Presiding Judge James M. Dowd for the appellate panel. 

“If we disclose to the defense they’ll tell their client,” the state explained. “And I’m not impugning anyone’s integrity, I’d do the same thing: Hey, they’re listening to your conversations, shut up. So we don’t disclose them until towards the end.”

Dowd pointed out that the state’s strategy was exactly what the discovery rule was intended to avoid.

“We find that this discovery violation likely resulted in Johnson’s genuine surprise at learning on the first day of trial that the State had prepared to use the untimely-disclosed recordings against him, since at no earlier point had Johnson learned that the State – and not just the county jail – had the recordings in its possession, nor had he learned that the State planned to use them at trial.”

The court rejected the state’s argument that because everybody knows that their prison phone calls are being recorded, there is no fundamental unfairness in failing to disclose them before trial, Dowd pointing to prior Missouri court rulings directly addressing that point. The relevant knowledge, the appeals court held, would be that the prosecution has the recordings and plans to use them at trial.

“Johnson was forced to make critical strategic decisions – such as whether to seek to avoid trial by pursuing a plea bargain, whether to waive his right to silence and testify, and what particular defense to raise – without being timely furnished highly prejudicial, properly-requested discovery,” Dowd wrote. “The State had more than a year and half to prepare its case with the benefit of its chosen excerpts of Johnson’s jail phone recordings… Even as an inadvertent mistake, such untimely disclosure would be suspect under Missouri law, but here the State admitted that it purposely withheld the recordings from Johnson.”

Dowd wrote that the “pretty sure” statement was “profoundly prejudicial” when it was used out of context to impeach Johnson’s testimony that he had disclosed his HIV status to his sexual partners. As a result, concluded Dowd, the state’s tactic had likely “prevented Johnson from preparing a meaningful defense – i.e., one that was not sabotaged by the State’s deliberate untimely disclosure of highly prejudicial evidence – and that timely disclosure of the statement would have affected the result of Johnson’s trial.”

The trial judge abused his discretion in letting the state use this evidence, and the conviction was reversed and sent back to the county Circuit Court for a new trial. It is up to the prosecutor to decide whether to go forward. Since Johnson has served only a small fraction of the 30-year sentence, there may be local pressure to have a new trial. In light of the evidence, which would be admissible the second time around now that it has been disclosed, it’s possible that Johnson will seek to strike a plea bargain for a shorter sentence.

In the meantime, this case, which has attracted nationwide attention, shows that Missouri’s HIV-exposure law requires reconsideration, especially in light of the developments in medical treatment that have changed the calculus of risk in HIV transmission since the law was passed in 1988. HIV-positive people who adhere to their treatment regimens should be uninfectious, and negative partners using PrEP should be protected against infection. Infection by a positive person who does not disclose their status, however, is likely to remain a contentious issue in any debates over reforming current criminal statutes.

17 Responses to College Wrestler’s HIV Conviction Thrown Out

  1. Lampin Law February 1, 2017 at 4:20 am

    You should seriously blog daily. This is awesome. Hell, blog twice a day. I love reading this kind of content.

    Reply
  2. check it February 11, 2017 at 9:10 am

    Avoid these common mistakes in writing your admissions essay for undergraduate or graduate programs alike. Too many of these errors can lead to rejection from your college/program of choice.

    Reply
  3. ts ssc result April 16, 2017 at 9:32 am

    ssc result telangana

    Reply
  4. ap ssc result April 16, 2017 at 9:32 am

    ap ssc results manabadi

    Reply
  5. cat tuong phu sinh May 31, 2017 at 11:17 pm

    Cattuongphusinh full of facilities from schools, hospitals, parks, world childhood, lakes harmony …. The owner of the park is always interested in the landscape environment here. Only 40% of the remaining construction land is ecological. You can find more information at cattuonggroup.org website cattuonggroup.org </ a> A>

    Reply
  6. zaiduzbic June 13, 2017 at 4:33 am

    Boy or girl care opportunities are beyond any doubt – nanny, manny (a good male nanny), babysitter, au combine, baby children's nurse, governess, daytime care, boy or girl care posting, mother's helper, and loved ones. But, often, the solution is somewhere between hiring a good babysitter or simply a nanny.house cleaning services

    Reply
  7. rankbuilders September 29, 2017 at 2:51 am

    Great article with excellent idea!Thank you for such a valuable article. I really appreciate for this great information..
    먹튀

    Reply
  8. atcwa October 11, 2017 at 6:57 am

    This is really an awesome post! I like it. keep sharing and updating.
    diploma of business

    Reply
  9. homesincebu76 October 12, 2017 at 8:23 am

    This is very educational content and written well for a change. It's nice to see that some people still understand how to write a quality post.!
    new futura condo floor plan

    Reply
  10. homesincebu76 October 12, 2017 at 8:23 am

    This is very educational content and written well for a change. It's nice to see that some people still understand how to write a quality post.!
    new futura condo floor plan

    Reply
  11. bond550 November 1, 2017 at 4:52 am

    Interesting topic for a blog. I have been searching the Internet for fun and came upon your website. Fabulous post. Thanks a ton for sharing your knowledge! It is great to see that some people still put in an effort into managing their websites. I'll be sure to check back again real soon.
    Veterans Suicide

    Reply
  12. jamsmalik November 1, 2017 at 7:12 am

    Thank you very much for keep this information.
    go here

    Reply
  13. QmmMovers November 2, 2017 at 10:27 am

    This is very educational content and written well for a change. It's nice to see that some people still understand how to write a quality post.!
    zerocarbohydrates.com

    Reply
  14. bond550 November 6, 2017 at 6:34 am

    Fantastic blog! Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any suggestions? Many thanks!
    find here

    Reply
  15. bond550 November 9, 2017 at 3:21 am

    Impressive web site, Distinguished feedback that I can tackle. I am moving forward and may apply to my current job as a pet sitter, which is very enjoyable, but I need to additional expand. Regards.
    Geldbörse nähen

    Reply
  16. bond550 November 9, 2017 at 3:21 am

    Impressive web site, Distinguished feedback that I can tackle. I am moving forward and may apply to my current job as a pet sitter, which is very enjoyable, but I need to additional expand. Regards.
    Geldbörse nähen

    Reply
  17. bond550 November 11, 2017 at 9:29 am

    Good website! I truly love how it is easy on my eyes it is. I am wondering how I might be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your RSS which may do the trick? Have a great day!
    Posters

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


eight − = one