Iowa Man's HIV-Transmission Conviction Overturned

By Brett Snider, Esq. on June 16, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An Iowa man's criminal conviction for HIV transmission was thrown out by the Iowa Supreme Court on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support his guilty plea.

Nick Rhoades, 39, of Plainfield, pleaded guilty in 2009 to criminal transmission of HIV after having sex with a man he met online. He allegedly did not tell his partner about his HIV status before the encounter, and although the man was ultimately not infected, he still went to the police, report The Associated Press.

What made Iowa's High Court throw out Rhoades' conviction?

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Iowa Law Criminalized HIV+ Sex Without Notice

Under Iowa law, those who are infected with HIV can be charged with a felony for having "intimate contact" with any person who is not aware of the HIV+ person's infected status. This law is one of many HIV disclosure laws that exist in many states, often making it a crime to have consensual sex without disclosing a person's HIV+ status.

Iowa's law is particularly strict, noting that a crime is still committed even if there is no actual infection of HIV through sexual contact. Rhoades engaged in protected intercourse but unprotected oral sex with another Iowa man in 2008, who was unaware of his HIV+ status until after their encounter.

Iowa Supreme Court Needs More Proof

Rhoades pleaded guilty to the charge in 2009, and received probation in exchange for his conviction. But he explained to the High Court that he did so because of ineffective assistance of counsel (i.e., a bad attorney). If an attorney allows his or her client to enter a guilty plea without a sufficient factual basis for the plea, it may violate the client's Sixth Amendment right to representation.

In a somewhat nuanced opinion, the Iowa Supreme Court noted that while infection with HIV wasn't required for a conviction under the Iowa law, there must be a factual basis for the possibility of HIV transmission from the encounter. The High Court noted this kind of possibility is not the theoretical kind, but whether it was reasonably possible for Rhoades to have transmitted HIV to his partner.

Without expert medical testimony about Rhoades' medical chances of transmitting HIV, there was no sufficient factual basis for his guilty plea, Iowa's Supreme Court held.

With Rhoades' original conviction tossed, prosecutors are now tasked at the trial court level with proving that Rhoades had a real possibility of transmitting the virus despite protection and treatment for HIV.

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