Michael Johnson or “Tiger Mandingo” as he referred to himself on social media, engaged in sexual acts with six different men, all of whom claimed that Michael lied about living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). As a result, the State of Missouri charged him with recklessly infecting a partner with HIV exposing or attempting to expose another with HIV. With contradictory trial testimony, no genetic fingerprint testing, and little to no questioning of his sexual partners’ credibility, the jury found Michael Johnson guilty of five felony counts which resulted in a 30-year prison sentence. Ultimately the Missouri Court of Appeals overturned Michael Johnson’s conviction, but only on the function of a discovery violation; the court did not reach the question of whether Michael’s 30-year sentence was cruel and unusual and thus constitutionally impermissible.
However, Michael’s conviction and sentencing sparked international attention towards how the United States continues to convict people living with HIV under archaic statutes that do not align with medical and scientific advancements or evolving moral standards. Today, HIV is a chronic disease, like diabetes, yet exposure to HIV is still treated as if it is a death sentence in both public opinion and American jurisprudence. These convictions and sentencing guidelines result in harsh sentences for punishments that do not match the crime, misplaces responsibility when two consenting adults choose to have sex, and raises the possibility of exposing people to wrongful convictions.
While Missouri and other states have attempted to modernize these antiqued laws, the modernized laws require further analysis to determine whether they in step with the science and if people living with HIV are still vulnerable to harsh sentences and wrongful convictions. This article identifies major legal considerations of the modernized laws and provides guidance on reform.
Ryan Jay McElhose,
How the Conviction and Sentencing of "Tiger Mandingo" Modernized Missouri's HIV-Related Statutes in 2021,
35 J.L. & Health
available at https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/jlh/vol35/iss2/6