Tenn. DA Agrees to End Upped Prostitution Charges for HIV+ People

MEMPHIS, Tenn./WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced that a prosecutor in Tennessee, Shelby County District Attorney General (DA) Steve Mulroy, will stop prosecuting people living with HIV under the state's aggravated prostitution criminal statute.

DOJ reached a settlement with Mulroy after the department's Civil Rights Division found that his office was violating people's rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act

“Living with HIV is not a crime and the continued enforcement of laws that criminalize a person based on their HIV status, regardless of risk, perpetuate bias, stereotypes and ignorance about HIV,” said Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general responsible for DOJ's Civil Rights Division, in a press statement published May 16. "We are pleased that Shelby County District Attorney has agreed to cease enforcement of this discriminatory law, and that future prosecution decisions will reflect the significant advances made in HIV prevention and treatment, consistent with the ADA.”

Mulroy's office ran awry by charging individuals under the Tennessee aggravated prostitution law that imposed enhanced penalties for people who live with HIV. According to the DOJ, the prosecutions lacked consideration of the risk of transmitting HIV. These enhanced penalties include individuals being charged with a felony and being forced to register as a sex offender for life, all based on their HIV status at the time of prosecution. 

Under the settlement agreement, Mulroy's office will no longer prosecute individuals under the aggravated prostitution law or as subject to sex offender registration requirements. Mulroy's office must also notify anyone who is eligible for a vacating of their convictions or the termination of their sentences and fines as to the steps to file petitions.

At the DA's office, prosecutors must be trained on ADA anti-discrimination requirements related to individuals who live with HIV, which is considered a disability covered under the protection law. The DA will also have to report compliance with the provisions of the agreement to the DOJ or face penalties. Failure to meet the requirements of the agreement could prompt the Department of Justice to sue Mulroy and his office for civil rights violations.