Wake County public health officials turned to the courts to tell a young man how he should behave in the privacy of his bedroom.
The court's power: the ability to send him to prison if he does not get in line.
Joshua Weaver, a 23-year-old Raleigh resident, has HIV, the sexually transmitted virus that causes AIDS. Because of his illness, the state has the power to tell him how he must act in the most intimate of encounters. Weaver, a DJ who frequents the dance-club scene in Wilmington, didn't heed the county's orders to alert sexual partners that he has HIV or protect them by wearing a condom during sex, according to court records.
The indiscretions could have landed him in prison for up to two years. But, according to a plea agreement struck Friday afternoon, Weaver is on probation for 30 months and must steer clear of dance clubs unless he's working. He's ordered to practice safe sex and alert potential partners that he's infected. If Weaver falters, he'll head to jail for 40 days. A probation officer specializing in sex cases will track his case.
“Somebody's life has been irreparably changed by this defendant's actions,” said Boz Zellinger, the Wake County assistant district attorney prosecuting the case.
Zellinger declined to elaborate on any potential victims.
Prosecutors and Weaver's defense attorney were discreet in court Friday. No one uttered “HIV.” Only the charges illuminated Weaver's indiscretions.
Weaver and his boyfriend slipped out a side door without comment; his attorney, Evonne Hopkins, brushed past reporters, declining to comment.
Weaver's troubles are rare. The state has the power to order those with communicable diseases like HIV to shield others from infection. For HIV, the state insists that infected patients wear condoms during sex. The state also requires the patient to come clean with any partner. Patients sign a form promising to comply.
If they stray time and again, health officials have a right to prosecute. It's a rare move, one health officials are reluctant to turn to.
Wake County hasn't turned to the courts to regulate the behavior of someone with a communicable disease in more than 15 years, said Gibby Harris, Wake's public health director. Then, it was a mentally ill prostitute with HIV who peddled sex on the streets to customers who were unaware of her infection, Harris said.
“It's our job to help them not hurt others,” said Chris Hoke, head of regulatory and legal affairs for the Division of Public Health. “We give HIV patients support, counseling and medication. If it comes down to them intentionally hurting someone, though, we can ask that they be put in prison. In this disease, you are looking at punishment as a deterrent.”
Catching those who stray is tricky, but health officials do find clues, Harris said. If a patient is HIV positive and comes in later with syphilis, for instance, public health directors assume he's been having unsafe sex. And if a patient is newly diagnosed and reports an existing patient as his only sexual partner, it's another clue, said Harris. She could not speak about Weaver's case, citing patient privacy laws.