Iowa man appeals HIV transmission conviction

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa man on Tuesday asked the Iowa Supreme Court to review his conviction on violating the state’s HIV transmission law.

Lambda Legal, a Chicago-based gay rights group, is representing Nick Rhoades, an HIV-positive Iowan who had a one-time sexual encounter in 2008 with another man during which they used a condom.

“A person who uses a condom and engages in safe sex, as Nick did, does not have the intent required to support a conviction under Iowa’s law addressing exposure to HIV,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director for Lambda Legal, in a statement. “We’re asking the Iowa Supreme Court to review this case because the facts here don’t add up to a conviction.”

He said the Iowa Court of Appeals’ Oct. 2 decision upholding Rhoades’ conviction was based on a misinterpretation of the plain language of the Iowa law.

Rhoades, 39, had a sexual encounter in June 2008 with a man he met in an online chat room. Rhoades drove from his home in Waverly to the man’s home in Cedar Falls, where the encounter took place. Within days, the man learned from a friend that Rhoades had HIV and contacted police. He has tested negative for HIV, but he supported Rhoades’ prosecution.

Rhoades eventually pleaded guilty to criminally transmitting HIV, a class B felony. A judge sentenced him to the maximum 25 years in prison but reconsidered after an outcry and freed Rhoades after 18 months. Rhoades is on probation and must register for life as a sex offender.

Thirty-nine states have HIV-specific criminal statutes or have charged people with HIV-related crimes in the past four years, Lambda Legal said.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s office, which defended Rhoades’ prosecution, supported the appeals court ruling. Miller’s office worked with lawmakers last session to update the statute “to reflect a growing body of research about HIV transmission” but the effort failed. Miller will continue those efforts, spokesman Geoff Greenwood said earlier this month.

Sen. Matt McCoy, a Des Moines Democrat, has introduced bills in recent years in an effort to focus the law on those who purposefully try to infect someone with the virus. He wants Iowa’s law to sentence people convicted of intentional or attempted transmission of the virus to a maximum of five years in prison, putting HIV in the same criminal category as transmitting any other communicable disease, such as Hepatitis C.

McCoy also wants to end a requirement that people convicted of criminally transmitting HIV be registered as sex offenders for life. His bills have never advanced out of committee but he plans on trying again next year.

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