Wednesday the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of Nick Rhoades, an HIV-positive Iowan who was initially sentenced to 25 years in prison and required to register as a sex offender after having a one-time sexual encounter with another man during which they used a condom.
“We’re extremely disappointed that the Iowa Court of Appeals is allowing Mr. Rhoades’s conviction to stand because it was based on a misinterpretation of the plain language of the statute,” said Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal. “Someone who engages in safe sex, as Nick did, does not have the intent required to support a conviction under Iowa’s law concerning the criminal transmission of HIV. Lambda Legal will assist Nick in evaluating his current options, which include a request that the Iowa Supreme Court hear this case.”
In June 2008, Rhoades had a one-time sexual encounter with Adam Plendl during which they used a condom. Several days later, Plendl was told by a friend that Rhoades might be HIV-positive. The police were contacted, and Mr. Plendl cooperated fully in the prosecution of Mr. Rhoades. The police arrested Rhoades in September 2008, and on the advice of his counsel, he pled guilty. Despite the fact that a condom was used and Mr. Plendl did not contract HIV, Rhoades was convicted under Iowa’s HIV criminalization law. He received the maximum sentence: 25 years in prison and classification as the most serious type of sex offender. Subsequently, the court suspended his prison sentence, and he was placed on supervised probation for five years.
On March 15, 2010, Rhoades filed an Application for Post-Conviction Relief, arguing that the attorney who advised him to plead guilty had failed to inform him of the specifics of the statute, resulting in his conviction for a crime he did not in fact commit. In December 2011, the district court denied the application. Lambda Legal is represented Mr. Rhoades in his appeal, and gave oral arguments on Mr. Rhoades behalf in September 2013.
Thirty-nine states have HIV-specific criminal statutes or have brought HIV-related criminal charges resulting in more than 160 prosecutions in the United States in the past four years. Among other things, HIV criminalization perpetuates the many myths and misconceptions that fuel other types of discrimination against people living with HIV. It sends an inaccurate message regarding prevention responsibility, creates a disincentive to getting tested, and may actually discourage disclosure of HIV status.
“This decision is another example of how our outdated perceptions of and misunderstandings about HIV are still driving public policy, leading to horrifying criminal penalties for the person living with HIV, even in situations where no harm was intended or actually occurred,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director for Lambda Legal. “Nick Rhoades’s story and the extreme sentence imposed in this case illustrate why we must reform HIV criminalization laws in Iowa and around the country.”
The case is Nick Rhoades v. State of Iowa.