Michigan courts use HIV disclosure laws to punish poor, marginalized individuals

July 30, 2012, University of Michigan

(Medical Xpress) -- Michigan's felony HIV disclosure law is a tool to control and punish marginalized and poor individuals in criminal court cases, according to new University of Michigan findings.

In many states, a person with HIV can be charged with a crime if he or she engages in sexual activity without telling the other person. Many of those convicted under Michigan's law are African-American men with and people suffering from or substance abuse problems, the research showed.

Trevor Hoppe, a doctoral student in sociology and women's studies, presented his findings—Punishing HIV: How Michigan Trial Courts Frame Criminal HIV Disclosure Cases—this week at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., which concludes today (July 27).

Framing HIV as a deadly disease is a strategy used by prosecutors seeking to convict a defendant of failing to disclose the health status. Although HIV has been transformed into a chronic, manageable illness since the introduction of effective therapies in 1995, prosecutors and judges in Michigan routinely compare the failure to disclose to murder in criminal nondisclosure cases and treat HIV as though it were still a death sentence.

This is noteworthy because transmission is not alleged in the vast majority of cases Hoppe studied, and many of the cases involve that poses little to no risk of transmission.

"As we enter into the fourth decade of HIV, it is time we reconsider how these unjust laws are enforced in a time when the Obama Administration is calling for an AIDS-free generation," Hoppe said. "You cannot call for universal testing when getting an HIV-positive test result can present substantial legal risks."

At least 24 states presently have a criminal law making it a misdemeanor or felony for HIV-positive people to have sex without first disclosing their status. In Michigan, conviction is a four-year felony.

Hoppe collected court transcripts and Michigan State Police data, which included the county, sentencing date and dispositions of all known convictions and nonconvictions involving defendants with a prior criminal record. He searched newspaper archives at public libraries for any mention of an HIV disclosure court case.

He also requested and received data from the Michigan Department of Community Health detailing the number of HIV-positive people diagnosed at any time between 1992 and 2010 in the counties in which he identified defendants.

The police data described 49 convictions in the state sentenced between 1992 and 2010. Hoppe independently identified seven additional convictions that were not included in police records.

Defendants ranged in age at sentencing from 21 to 54. Most defendants (85 percent) were involved in cases where the complainants were of the opposite sex. Slightly less than half of all defendants were white (48 percent), 37 percent were black and 11 percent were Latino. The majority of defendants (85 percent) were men.

Comparing the conviction data to publicly available data from the Michigan Department of Community Health on the approximately 4,875 -positive individuals diagnosed in the 37 counties sampled between 1992 and 2010 suggests an overrepresentation of African-American men with female partners and an underrepresentation of white men with male partners among those convicted.

Most cases (93 percent) resulted in jail or prison sentences with minimum sentences ranging from time served to 10 years. In cases in which maximum sentences were assigned, they varied from two to 15 years in prison, the research showed.

Explore further: Abolish the criminalization of HIV

Related Stories

Abolish the criminalization of HIV

December 19, 2011
Routine criminal prosecutions for not disclosing HIV status should be abolished, write three HIV/AIDS experts in an article in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Study finds non-disclosure of HIV serostatus common among India female sex workers

July 23, 2012
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) in partnership with Indian researchers and HIV positive networks groups, have found that in India, non-disclosure of HIV serostatus to sex partners among both HIV-infected ...

HIV/AIDS: Progress and concerns three decades later

June 13, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- When Michael Jonas learned he was HIV positive, he returned from Florida to his home in Jackson, Mich., to die.

Risky sex, drug acts decline in US: survey

January 19, 2012
High-risk sexual behaviors and drug habits that can increase a person's likelihood of getting HIV/AIDS are on the decline in the United States, according to a government survey released Thursday.

Recommended for you

War in Ukraine has escalated HIV spread in the country: study

January 15, 2018
Conflict in Ukraine has increased the risk of HIV outbreaks throughout the country as displaced HIV-infected people move from war-affected regions to areas with higher risk of transmission, according to analysis by scientists.

Researchers offer new model for uncovering true HIV mortality rates in Zambia

January 12, 2018
A new study that seeks to better ascertain HIV mortality rates in Zambia could provide a model for improved national and regional surveillance approaches, and ultimately, more effective HIV treatment strategies.

New drug capsule may allow weekly HIV treatment

January 9, 2018
Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital have developed a capsule that can deliver a week's worth of HIV drugs in a single dose. This advance could make it much easier for patients to adhere to the strict schedule ...

New long-acting, less-toxic HIV drug suppresses virus in humanized mice

January 8, 2018
A team of Yale researchers tested a new chemical compound that suppresses HIV, protects immune cells, and remains effective for weeks with a single dose. In animal experiments, the compound proved to be a promising new candidate ...

Usage remains low for pill that can prevent HIV infection

January 8, 2018
From gritty neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles to clinics in Kenya and Brazil, health workers are trying to popularize a pill that has proven highly effective in preventing HIV but which—in their view—remains woefully ...

Researchers find clues to AIDS resistance in sooty mangabey genome

January 3, 2018
Peaceful co-existence, rather than war: that's how sooty mangabeys, a monkey species found in West Africa, handle infection by SIV, a relative of HIV, and avoid developing AIDS-like disease.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Aug 01, 2012
More proof Progressive AIDS activists don't care about stopping the spread of AIDS and are using AIDS to spread their agenda. If you know you have AIDS and you have sex with someone without telling them first you have AIDS, You have engaged in an act that has a high risk of inflicting at a minimum a serious disease, and possible shortened their life. I consider that to be as serious and needs to be dealt with as harshly as attempted murder.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.