The student claims the defendant never told him he was HIV-positive
Recently, a Missouri court of appeals overturned the conviction of a man accused of deliberately withholding information about his HIV-positive status from his sexual partners. The case has raised several questions, including issues of race, sexual orientation, and privacy.
As reported by the Washington Post, the case involved a former student-athlete who attended Lindenwood University, where he was a member of the school’s wrestling team. The student, who is in his mid-20s, is also an openly gay black man.
According to court documents, the student discovered he was HIV-positive a few weeks before having unprotected sex with a fellow student. The student claims the defendant never told him he was HIV-positive. About a month after their sexual encounter, the second student was also diagnosed as being HIV-positive.
After discovering he was infected, the student said he noticed the wrestler continuing to use so-called “hookup” apps, which allow users to meet potential sexual partners. The student contacted the police, who arrested the wrestler.
During the trial, prosecutors introduced three cell phone conversations, including a call that took place in jail, in which the wrestler said he was “pretty sure” he told his sexual partners about his HIV-positive status. At trial, he pled not guilty to failing to disclose his status.
At the trial level, the jury found the wrestler guilty of three felony counts, including recklessly infecting a sexual partner with HIV and attempting to infect other partners with HIV. The judge in the trial sentenced him to 30 years in prison.
On appeal, the court overturned the conviction, saying the laws upon which the conviction was based were passed in 1987, well before scientific advances in AIDS and HIV treatment made pre-exposure prevention drugs accessible. The judge also said that prosecutors mishandled the cell phone conversations, failing to introduce them into evidence until just one day before the trial.
Texas criminal defense lawyer Clint Broden explains: “Neither side in the case is saying they based their position on the fact that the defendant engaged in homosexual sex or sex with multiple partners. According to the story, the prosecution based its case on the fact that the defendant allegedly kept information about being infected with a deadly disease from his sexual partners. Arguably, these sexual partners might have declined to participate in an intimate relationship had they known the man was infected. There have been other criminal cases involving a person’s failure to disclose their HIV status.”
In fact, 33 states have “partner notification” laws on the books that impose criminal penalties on individuals who know they’re HIV-positive yet fail to disclose it to potential sexual partners.
However, many partner notification laws have come under scrutiny for being unfair or outdated. If you have been charged with a similar crime, it’s important to work with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.