Nick Rhoades

Nick Rhoades

An HIV positive American man who was jailed for 25 years after he had sex with another man once, while using a condom, is appealing his conviction.

The man, Nick Rhoades from Iowa, was also required by the court to register as a sex offender, even though the other man never contracted HIV.

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.

The police were contacted and they arrested Rhoades in September 2008 under Iowa’s HIV criminalisation law. Plendl cooperated fully in the prosecution of Rhoades.

On the advice of his counsel, Rhoades pled guilty and was convicted. He received the maximum sentence: 25 years in prison and classification as the most serious type of sex offender.

Subsequently, after he spent nine months in jail, the court suspended his prison sentence, and he was placed on supervised probation for five years.

Other courts have since continued to uphold the conviction, despite Rhoades insisting that the attorney who advised him to plead guilty failed to inform him of the specifics of the law, resulting in his conviction for a crime he did not commit.

On Tuesday, the organisation Lambda Legal filed an appeal in the Iowa Supreme Court asking it to review the case.

“The facts here don’t add up to a conviction,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director for Lambda Legal.

“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,” argued Schoettes.

Thirty-nine states in the US have HIV-specific criminal statutes or have brought HIV-related criminal charges resulting in more than 160 prosecutions in country in the past four years.

Most HIV activists are opposed to laws criminalising people who have caused others to be infected. Lambda Legal argues that it “sends an inaccurate message regarding prevention responsibility, creates a disincentive to getting tested, and may actually discourage disclosure of HIV status”.

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