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Michigan's HIV crime law called discriminatory, ineffective

A law passed by Michigan legislators at the height of the AIDS epidemic unfairly stigmatizes people living with HIV, and encourages police to target HIV-positive individuals, according to a sociologist. Michigan Radio recently discussed an opinion piece written by the statute’s critic that raises questions about the law’s effects, along with whether the rights of HIV-positive people are being recognized.

The law in question, passed in 1989, makes it a felony for an HIV-positive person to have penetrative sex without first disclosing their HIV status to his or her sexual partner. The sociologist argues that the law singles out HIV-positive people instead of all people with communicable diseases, which he suggests was based on homophobia among lawmakers at the time. He also argues that criminal punishment is not an effective way to control disease.

Besides whether the HIV law violates equal protection rights, it appears that police have abused the law in at least one instance. A Michigan man is facing jail time after being pulled over for a noisy muffler.

The officer who pulled him over cited him for not wearing corrective lenses and driving without proof of insurance. The man was on probation for drug-related charges, after going through a drug court program, but his probation officer assured him the incident was not an issue.

But later that day, police ordered him to report to jail. Officers seized his phone and demanded the password to unlock it. Somehow, the officers had learned that the man is HIV positive. They went through the phone’s contact list and called everyone on it, telling those who answered about the man’s HIV status and asking if they had had sex with him.

Besides this potential invasion of privacy, the man could end up having to serve his original sentence.

Laws like this that few Michigan residents know about can nevertheless seriously affect their freedom someday. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who understands the criminal code is your best bet when charged with a crime.

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