When does privacy include televising someone's name, address, the place and nature of their work, and showing their face?
That's the question I am sure you will ask yourself when you watch how two local TV stations in Raleigh, North Carolina, report on the "sensitive" issue of an apparently HIV-positive 23 year-old man who appeared in court under North Carolina's public health laws, for allegedly having unprotected sex without disclosure.
I was alerted to the case on August 22nd when the outcome of the man's hearing was published on two local TV websites.
Then, I found a link to a story from a week earlier, which was all about how the man's attorney, Evonne Hopkins, had argued before District Court Judge James Fullwood that the hearing should be done in a closed court because it was "a sensitive matter and that exposing medical information might violate medical privacy laws."
Even the prosecutor, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger, conceded that, "We recognize the sensitivity of this issue."
And yet, how do I know all of this? Because it was all shown on the local TV news, including the face and name of the 23 year-old, and a close-up shot of his charge sheet that lasts a good five seconds, showing not just his full name and job alias, but also his address!
(Click on image for a link to the video of the news report which includes showing the 23 year-old's face, name, and address, which I have blurred in this still)
In the end, the man agreed to a plea bargain which results in him being able to keep his job - he received a 45 day suspected sentence and three years' probation.
But I wonder if he really will be able to keep his job now that he has been named and shamed on local TV?
Attorney wants closed court for client's health-law case
Aug. 15, 2008
The case of a Raleigh man charged with a public health violation was continued Friday after his attorney said she does not want the matter heard in open court.
Joshua Waldon Weaver, 23, was arrested in April on charges stemming from North Carolina General Statute 130A-144 (f), which requires all people to comply with measures controlling communicable diseases, and North Carolina Administrative Code 10-41 A.02020 (1)(a)(e), which addresses control measures regarding HIV.
According to an arrest warrant, the alleged offenses ranged from Aug. 1, 2006, to the present. Weaver is out of jail on a $50,000 bond.
Weaver's attorney, Evonne Hopkins, tried to have a judge close proceedings Friday morning when Weaver was in court for what was to have been a plea deal with prosecutors. She said it is a sensitive matter and that exposing medical information might violate medical privacy laws.
"The Americans With Disabilities Act, HIPAA – I'm concerned about State Bar consequences. I am highly alarmed," Hopkins said. She referred to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law that guards patients' privacy.
After several hours of delays and arguments, District Court Judge James Fullwood agreed to continue the case until next Friday.
"We recognize the sensitivity of this issue," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said. "We're not out to get anyone."
According to court documents, the Wake County Public Health Department reported Weaver to the district attorney's office.
Although she said she could not talk specifically about Weaver's case, director Gibby Harris said that, in general, the agency has a responsibility to monitor people with communicable diseases to make sure they don't spread them.
"Our intent is to change behavior," Harris said.
When a person is diagnosed with a communicable disease, such as HIV, health officials ask the person to supply a list of people they have had contact with so those people can be notified.
Harris said the patient is initially given an isolation/no-contact order not to spread the disease.
If they fail to comply, they are first warned, Harris said. Criminal charges are a last resort.
"If we see someone who just can't comply for one reason or another or just will not comply, then we do have the option of prosecuting that individual," Harris said.
Overall, there were 229 documented cases of HIV in Wake County last year, down 31 from 2006. Three-quarters of the patients were men.
Raleigh man pleads guilty to public-health violation
Aug. 22, 2008
A Raleigh man received a 45-day suspended jail sentence Friday after pleading guilty to charges that he failed to use a condom and notify sexual partners that he has HIV.
Joshua Waldon Weaver, 23, a DJ in Raleigh and Wilmington, was also sentenced to 30 months of supervised probation and ordered to pay a $300 fine, plus court costs.
Weaver was arrested in April on charges brought under North Carolina Administrative Code 10-41 A.02020 (1)(a)(e), which addresses control measures regarding HIV, and North Carolina General Statute 130A-144 (f), which requires all people to comply with measures controlling communicable diseases.
The offenses, which ranged from Aug. 1, 2006, to April 2008, are misdemeanors in North Carolina.
"The defendant's repeated violations of those are what brought him here today," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said Friday.
As part of his probation, Weaver must pay a $300 fine, plus court costs, and comply with the public health laws under which he was charged. He must also undergo a mental health and substance abuse assessment and stay away from nightclubs unless he is working.
Zellinger said that if Weaver violates his probation, he could be quarantined for up to two years.
Last Friday, District Judge James Fullwood continued the case after Weaver's attorney, Evonne Hopkins, tried to have court proceedings closed, saying the case is a sensitive matter and that exposing medical information might violate medical privacy laws.
Although she would not speak about the specifics in Weaver's case, Gibby Harris, director of the Wake County Public Health Department, said patients diagnosed with a communicable disease, such as HIV, must agree to a no-contact order so that the disease will not spread.
Criminal charges are a last resort, she said, if patients don't comply.
"Part of the issue, I do believe, is that people have started to believe that HIV is a chronic disease. It used to be that it was a death sentence," she said. "We're having difficulty educating our younger community about this."
Zellinger said he hopes the case will be a wake-up call for others.
"When you think about it, somebody's lives have been changed irreparably by this defendant's actions," he said. "Having a cavalier attitude about following public health laws can't really be tolerated because other people are put in harm's way."
Man pleads guilty to endangering public health
Friday, August 22, 2008
RALEIGH (WTVD) -- A Wake County man takes plea agreement for allegedly endangering public health by exposing others to HIV.
A Wake County man takes plea agreement for allegedly endangering public health by exposing others to HIV.
Joshua Weaver plead guilty to health code violation Friday in court for alleged multiple violations between August 2006 to April 2006.
"The fact that this happened over and over again is what caused this to come to court today," said Boz Zellinger with the District Attorney's Office.
The 23-year-old disc jockey faced charges of violating the state's public health control law by exposing partners to an incurable, sexually transmitted disease. No one will name his specific offense citing medical privacy laws.
A judge sentenced Weaver to 30 months probation and a 45 day suspended jail sentence.
The judge also ordered Weaver to refrain from having sex unless he uses a condom and must tell past and future partners of any infection.
He will be allowed to keep his jobs as a DJ in the Triangle and at a gay and lesbian club in Wilmington, but he must stay away from clubs if he is not working.
Wake County Prosecutors charged Weaver with failure to use protection during sexual intercourse, in violation of the state's control measures for HIV. They also accused him of not notifying his sexual partners that he is HIV-positive.
North Carolinians diagnosed with HIV are obligated under the law to limit others' exposure to the virus that can lead to AIDS. Carriers are required to sign an agreement that orders them to practice safe sex and be honest with partners about their status.
"They have to avoid having sex with people without letting them know that they're HIV positive and without using condoms," Wake County Public Health Gibby Harris said.
The penalty for violating the law holds a maximum of up to two years in prison. Wake County health officials say they haven't brought a case like this to court in more than 15 years.