"This conviction cannot stand because someone who engages in safe sex is not guilty of criminal transmission of HIV."
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Lambda Legal today filed an appeal on a petition for post-conviction relief in the Iowa Supreme Court on behalf of an HIV-positive Iowa man, Nick Rhoades.
Rhoades was sentenced to 25 years in prison and lifetime registration as a sex offender after having a one-time sexual encounter with another man during which they used a condom.
"The law only applies to those who intend to expose others to HIV," said Christopher Clark, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal. "This conviction cannot stand because someone who engages in safe sex is not guilty of criminal transmission of HIV. Nick's use of a condom clearly indicates that he was protecting his sexual partner from exposure."
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 Plendl did not contract HIV, Rhoades was convicted of intentionally exposing Plendl to HIV. He received the maximum sentence: 25 years in prison and lifetime registration as a sex offender.
Several months later, 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 he had received ineffective assistance from his counsel who advised him to plead guilty. In December 2011, the court denied the application.
Lambda Legal is representing Rhoades in his appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.
"To think that for the rest of my life I'll be branded as a felon and sex-offender, all because of a one-time safe sex encounter where no HIV was transmitted, is unimaginable," Rhoades said.
Thirty-nine states have HIV-specific criminal statutes or have brought HIV-related criminal charges resulting in more than 80 prosecutions in the United States in the past two years alone. 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.
"Criminal laws, like the one in Iowa, unjustly target people living with HIV and subject them to unwarranted prosecution and punishment," said Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director for Lambda Legal. "By representing people like Nick Rhoades, we are doing what we can to ensure these outdated and unnecessary laws are not abusively misused against people whose conduct is not actually prohibited under them."
The case is Nick Rhoades v. State of Iowa. Read the brief click HERE.