IOWA CITY — An Iowa man violated the state’s HIV transmission law because he didn’t disclose he was infected, even though his partner did not acquire the virus and their encounter posed a low risk of transmission, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The ruling against Nicholas Rhoades — who was initially sentenced to the maximum 25 years in prison — was a bitter disappointment to groups challenging state laws that criminalize HIV transmission. Advocates have seized on Rhoades’ prosecution as a particularly egregious example of how the laws can be overly harsh and based on outdated scientific understanding of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Christopher Clark, a Chicago-based attorney for gay rights group Lambda Legal, which is representing Rhoades, called the ruling an injustice and said he was considering asking the Iowa Supreme Court for review. Another gay rights group, One Iowa, said lawmakers must repeal or amend a law that “targets and denigrates Iowans living with HIV and AIDS.”
“Iowa’s draconian HIV criminal transmission law is not only retaliatory, it is outdated and needs to be revised,” One Iowa Executive Director Donna Red Wing, said.
Rhoades, 39, had a sexual encounter with a man he met in an online chat room in 2008. Within days, the man learned from a friend that Rhoades had HIV and contacted police. He eventually 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 after an outcry over the sentence, the judge reconsidered and freed Rhoades after roughly 18 months behind bars. Rhoades is on probation and required to register for life as a sex offender.