Iowa Court Hears Lambda Legal HIV Criminalization Case

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September 11, 2013

The Iowa Court of Appeals heard arguments in Lambda Legal’s case representing Nick Rhoades, an HIV-positive Iowan who was initially sentenced to 25 years in prison with registration as a sex offender after having a one-time sexual encounter with another man during which they used a condom. His partner did not contract HIV.

Lambda Legal Senior Staff Attorney Christopher Clark says:

Someone who engages in safe sex does not have the intent required to support a conviction under Iowa’s law concerning the criminal transmission of HIV. Nick used a condom—he was clearly protecting his partner from exposure to the virus. This conviction cannot stand because a person living with HIV who engages in safe sex is not guilty of a crime under Iowa law.

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 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 representing Mr. Rhoades in his appeal.

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.

Lambda Legal HIV Project Director Scott Schoettes says:

Criminal laws, like the one in Iowa, unjustly target people living with HIV and subject them to unwarranted prosecution and punishment. Nick Rhoades’s story and the extreme sentence imposed in this case illustrate how these outdated and unnecessary laws are being abusively misused against people who have no desire or intention to harm anyone.

Read the press release.