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HIV-positive man appeals conviction for having sex

An HIV-positive man sentenced to lifetime registration as a sex offender is petitioning the Iowa Supreme Court for post-conviction relief.

Nick Rhoades was sentenced to 25 years in prison and must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life for a one-time sexual encounter with another man during which they used a condom, according to Lambda Legal, which is representing him in the appeal.

“This conviction cannot stand because someone who engages in safe sex is not guilty of criminal transmission of HIV,” said Christopher Clark, a senior attorney for Lambda. “Nick’s use of a condom clearly indicates that he was protecting his sexual partner from exposure.”

In June 2008, Rhoades engaged in sexual activity with Adam Plendl during which they used a condom. Several days later, Plendl learned that Rhoades might be HIV-positive and he contacted the police.

The police arrested Rhoades and, on the advice of his lawyer, Rhoades pleaded guilty.

Lambda says that despite the use of a condom and the fact that Plendl did not contract HIV, Rhoades was convicted of intentionally exposing Plendl to the virus and received a maximum sentence: 25 years in prison and lifetime registration as a sex offender.

Several months later, the court suspended the prison sentence and placed Rhoades on probation.

Rhoades, with the help of Lambda, is arguing to the Iowa Supreme Court that he had ineffective assistance from his initial attorney.

“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 in a news release.

According to Lambda, 39 states have HIV-specific criminal statutes. In the last two years, there have been more than 80 prosecutions of HIV-related criminal charges.

“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 “By representing people like Nick Rhoades, we are doing what we can to ensure these outdated and unnecessary laws are not abusively misused against people whose conduct is not actually prohibited under them.”

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