Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Adam Plendl contacted police because Nick Rhoades did not disclose his HIV status when the two had a one-time sexual encounter. According to the police report, it was a hospital employee who called police after Plendl sought treatment upon learning that Rhoades had HIV.
On Wednesday, September 11, the Iowa Court of Appeals will hear oral argument in Lambda Legal’s case on behalf of an HIV-positive Iowa man, Nick Rhoades. Rhoades was sentenced to 25 years in prison and mandatory registration as a sex offender after having a one-time sexual encounter with another man during which they engaged in safe sex.
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, and he contacted the police. 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 statute. He received the maximum sentence: 25 years in prison and classification as a sex offender.
“I was in shock, trying to figure out where this was all going,” Rhoades says. “My heart was racing a million miles an hour. I’d never been in trouble.”
But Plendl, 22 at the time, says his life was forever changed as well, and that he was severely depressed and suffered panic attacks while waiting to find out if he was infected.
“It was 181 days of pure fear, that six-month window when you don’t know,” he says.
“Individuals that are HIV positive have a moral and currently legal obligation to inform any of their sexual partners of their positive status. Individuals should have the choice as to whether or not they would engage with someone who is HIV positive when they are not. In this case, that choice — and what I also consider a right — was not afforded to me.”
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 commit. In December 2011, the district court denied the application. Lambda Legal is representing Rhoades in his appeal.
Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Midwest Regional Office and Scott A. Schoettes, HIV Project Director are handling the case for Lambda Legal. They are joined by Joseph C. Glazebrook and Dan L. Johnston with Glazebrook & Moe, LLP based in Des Moines, Iowa.
The case is Nick Rhoades v. State of Iowa. For more information, visit the case page.