Joan Shenton’s New Doc, Criminally False, Is Criminally Untruthful

I am amazed and dumbfounded that Joan Shenton’s new documentary, Criminally False, is so utterly deceptive and downright untruthful. Can something that is only 11 minutes even be considered a documentary? It certainly does not provide adequate time to fully dissect and explain a situation. Perhaps that is why this documentary is so bad.

The Press Release for the very short film makes a definitive proclamation about what it attempts to accomplish; prove that HIV tests are unreliable in a court of law. (Why the legal system is the arbiter instead of the scientific method is never explained.)

“The new 11 minute film, Criminally False, explores what happened when the HIV test, almost universally relied on to judge whether or not people are HIV+, was itself tested for reliability under the rigours of the criminal courts, with legally ground-breaking results.”

However, the film ultimately fails because it provides zero proof to back up this grand pronouncement.

The documentary relies on two people to tell this story, both of whom were convicted and imprisoned for having sex with multiple partners without disclosing their HIV positive status. Using these two particular people provides two separate problems for this documentary.

The first person is called “Anton” (fake name to protect his identity). Here is what Joan Shenton says in the Press Release about Anton:

In telling Anton’s story, we’re asking if the HIV test stands up to legal scrutiny: does the test actually prove, to the standards required in a criminal trial, that someone who tests HIV+ is definitely carrying HIV, is likely to transmit it and is likely to cause harm? The manufacturers of the test want us to believe it is dependable but does the evidence for that stand up in court? Should Anton have been convicted?

This sounds very compelling and I would love to know the answers. The problem is, “Anton” is simply a prop. The documentary does not even attempt to tell Anton’s story, nor does it attempt to answer any of the questions posed in the above statement. In the documentary David Crowe, President of Re-Thinking AIDS, lobs irrelevant softball questions as the viewer stares at the back of Anton’s head. None of the questions are pertinent to the goal of the film. The entire interview is frustrating and weird. It reminded me of Clint Eastwood interviewing an empty chair at the 2012 RNC Convention. Shenton should be ashamed and embarrassed for putting this in the film.

The second subject is Sgt David Gutierrez. This is where the film really tries to score points and prove that HIV tests are worthless. But this too is a dismal failure. In the Press Release Ms. Shenton admits that the case had nothing to do with HIV tests:

The convicted airman was not accused of actually infecting anyone, only of having sex with them after a positive HIV test. His conviction was overturned because the US government could not prove that any of his acts were likely to transmit HIV to his partners or likely to cause them harm.

And that is the truth. The appeal turned on a legal definition: “Whether the evidence is legally insufficient to find beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant committed assault likely to result in grievous bodily harm.”

The appeal victory had nothing to do with the validity of HIV tests nor was the validity of HIV tests or HIV science ever called into question; quite the contrary, actually. In the oral arguments, which can be heard here, Attorney Kevin McDermott discusses Viral Load, transmission rates and the fact that HIV is now a chronic manageable disease thanks to HAART.

The final decision is here and it is clearly based on transmission rates from HIV expert Donna Sweet as well as the CDC, footnote #4:

We note that Dr. Sweet’s testimony is consistent with information on HIV transmission risk published by the Centers for Disease Control. See Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (last updated July 1, 2014).

Why Joan Shenton even made such a dismal film in the first place is questionable.  The film never attempts to scrutinize the HIV tests nor provide any proof to support the proclamation of the Press Release. This film is obviously propaganda, but it is such poor propaganda that I am embarrassed not only for Joan, but for all of those involved.

Blog Note: The Press Release also blatantly tries to blame vaccines for causing False Positive HIV test results and this is also touched on in the film. This is an old and tired AIDS Denialist trope that I previously explained, quite well if I do say so myself, in this post which coincidentally was in relation to the Sgt David Gutierrez Case.

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