Michael Johnson Conviction Reversed
Missouri Court of Appeals rules that prosecutor’s impermissible “trial by ambush” strategy entitles Johnson to new trial
New York, NY, December 20, 2016 – The Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP), a national legal resource and advocacy center, announced today that the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, reversed the conviction of Michael Johnson and remanded his case for a new trial. Concerning the decision, Johnson’s appellate attorney, Samuel Buffaloe, stated, "This is a tremendous decision from the Eastern District Court of Appeals. I am very happy for Michael and look forward to justice for him."
The court reversed the judgment of the trial court based on the state’s failure to comply with Johnson’s discovery request, in violation of Rule 25.03, resulting in the untimely introduction of evidence that prevented Johnson from preparing a meaningful defense in the case. In the words of the Court, “the State’s violation of Rule 25.03 was knowing and intentional and was part of a trial-by-ambush strategy that this Court does not condone and that Rule 25.03 was specifically designed to avoid.”
CHLP’s Deputy Director Mayo Schreiber said, “This is a terrific first step towards justice for Michael. We will continue to fight for Michael and work to overturn Missouri’s and other states’ irrational and discriminatory HIV exposure laws.”
In the appeal of his conviction, Johnson raised two points. First, that the trial court allowed evidence to be introduced late – the first day of the trial – denying him the fair opportunity to prepare his defense. And second, that his sentence of 30 years for violating Missouri’s HIV transmission and exposure statute violated the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments.
The court did not address Johnson’s second point on appeal relating to the constitutionality of his punishment or the issues CHLP raised in its “friend of the court” brief, since Johnson must now be retried if the conviction itself is to stand. CHLP and the law firm Gibbons, P.C. drafted the brief, which addressed the “cruel and unusual punishment” of Johnson’s sentence and also argued that Missouri’s criminal HIV law violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Constitutional protections against irrational treatment of disabilities such as HIV. Twenty-one national and state HIV, social justice, and LGBT organizations joined this brief; the ACLU of Missouri Foundation served as local counsel. CHLP’s full brief, including the complete list of endorsing organizations, can be found here.
Avram Frey and Lawrence Lustberg of Gibbons, P.C., and Mayo Schreiber and Catherine Hanssens of CHLP drafted the brief. Anthony Rothert, Legal Director, ACLU of Missouri Foundation, was local counsel for the amicus curiae organizations.
To read the Missouri Court of Appeals decision, State of Missouri v. Michael L. Johnson, Mo. Ct. of Appeals, E.D., No. ED 103217 (Dec. 20, 2016), click here.
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The Center for HIV Law and Policy is a national resource and advocacy organization working to advance the rights of people affected by HIV. We combine an online HIV Policy Resource Bank, a creative national advocacy agenda and case assistance focused on systems and institutions with significant impact on marginalized communities.