Published July, 2014

From Sickness to Badness: The Criminalization of HIV in Michigan, Trevor Hoppe, Social Science & Medicine (2013)

This article follows the development of the “criminalization of sickness” through “moralizing narratives of HIV infection that serve to construct HIV as a form of badness deserving of legal intervention and, thus, social control.” Through a case study of Michigan’s criminal law, Hoppe traces the mandatory disclosure of HIV through almost 20 years of convictions to show that this move from sickness to badness is rooted in fear and panic, to the detriment of public health. 

Hoppe describes the legislative history of Michigan’s HIV disclosure law as punitive in nature, despite warnings that criminalization could foster the spread of HIV and impede public health efforts. The law ultimately mandates disclosure for a broad range of activities, including some with no or low risk of actual transmission, and leaves out actual transmission as a necessary component of the crime. Similar portrayals of nondisclosure as bad and deserving of punishment appear throughout case transcripts, as people with HIV are routinely characterized as reckless AIDS carriers in need of restraint, carriers of death, and causing death to innocent third parties.

This study helps explain the underlying causes for and sociological mechanisms by which criminalization of HIV remains prevalent despite a lack of epidemiological support. Yet, as Hoppe points out, these sociological arguments have limited use as a direct challenge to criminal law or the legal institution at large.