XIX International AIDS Conference


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WEAD0204 - Oral Abstract

Punishing HIV: how Michigan trial courts frame criminal HIV disclosure cases

Presented by Trevor Hoppe (United States).

T. Hoppe

University of Michigan, Sociology, Ann Arbor, United States

Background: Sociologists have recently become interested in the rise in prosecutions across the country under criminal HIV disclosure statutes. These law vary in their specifics, but generally make it a crime for HIV-positive individuals to have sex without first disclosing their HIV-positive status. Yet, despite a number of sociological explorations of how HIV-positive individuals relate to these laws, we know very little about how these laws are actually applied on the ground. This paper addresses this gap by exploring how legal actors in Michigan trial courts struggle to frame disclosure cases in terms of medicine and/or the law.
Methods: Using a database of prosecutions provided by the Michigan State Police, this study analyzes court transcripts from forty prosecutions for HIV non-disclosure. The police dataset included the sentencing dates, counties, and the court´s disposition for cases prosecuted between 1992 (the year the law first was prosecuted) and 2010. In order to request their corresponding court transcripts, these data were cross-referenced with local news reports in order to identify the defendants. This research design was reviewed (and deemed exempt from further review) by the University of Michigan´s Institutional Review Board.
Results: I argue that these cases can ultimately be understood as a contest to frame the disease as disease or crime. Prosecutors frame defendants as what Thomas Shevory has called "HIV monsters" using legal discourses of negligence, harm, and morality. Their accusers, on the other hand, are framed as undeserving and helpless victims. Defense attorneys attempt to diffuse these arguments by relying on medical discourses that frame disease as victimless and deserving of treatment, not punishment.
Conclusions: This analysis is the first empirical study to show how HIV disclosure cases are legally argued on the ground. Moreover, this study demonstrates empirically how medical problems become transformed into crime, a poorly understood social process.

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