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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 4 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 40
Iowa court upholds conviction under HIV transmission law
Section One
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Iowa court upholds conviction under HIV transmission law

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Iowa Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of an HIV-positive Gay man for failing to disclose his HIV status to a sexual partner, even though condoms were used during their encounter and his partner did not contract HIV.

In its October 2 ruling, the court said Nick Rhoades was properly convicted of criminally transmitting HIV, a class B felony.

Rhoades hooked up online in February 2008. He did not discuss his HIV status with his partner, had unprotected oral sex but did not ejaculate, and then put on a condom before having anal sex. The partner subsequently discovered that Rhoades is HIV-positive and complained to police.

Rhoades was charged under Iowa's strict HIV transmission law, even though the partner later tested negative for HIV. At trial, he pleaded guilty on the advice of his attorney and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The severity of the sentence sparked a public outcry and the judge reconsidered, freeing Rhoades after he had served roughly 18 months. Rhoades is currently on probation, but he is required to register for life as a sex offender.

Lambda Legal represented Rhoades in his appeal of the conviction. Its lawyers argued that Rhoades would not have pleaded guilty if his original lawyer had advised him that the charge required proof that he intentionally exposed a partner to his bodily fluids in a manner that could transmit HIV.

'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.'

ORAL SEX NOT HIGH-RISK
A coalition of advocates for HIV patients, including the HIV Law Project, supported Rhoades in an amicus brief, saying that unprotected oral sex poses an extremely low risk of transmission and that there were no documented cases of such transmission without ejaculation.

Nevertheless, all three Appeals Court judges hearing the case ruled that since oral transmission of HIV is theoretically possible, the conviction should stand.

Clark, the Lambda Legal attorney, said he was disappointed in the ruling.

'They embrace the idea that you can put people in jail for behavior that represents absolutely no risk to people. That is a travesty,' he said. 'We're left with a situation we're still puzzling over: What is the infectious bodily fluid that is the basis of this conviction? There isn't [any].'

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller's office defended Rhoades' prosecution and supported the Appeals Court ruling. But spokesman Geoff Greenwood noted that Miller's office worked with lawmakers last year during an unsuccessful attempt to update the HIV transmission statute 'to reflect a growing body of research about HIV transmission' and would continue those efforts.

The Iowa Court of Appeals hears appeals cases referred to it by the state's Supreme Court, and its decisions are final unless the Supreme Court itself elects to hear a case.

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