A Plainfield man sentenced to serve 25 years in prison after pleading guilty of criminal transmission of HIV will have that sentence tossed out, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.
Nick Rhoades, 39, became an advocate to reform Iowa law after he pleaded guilty of criminal transmission of HIV following a 2008 arrest. Rhoades, who is HIV-positive, had protected sex with a man who did not know about Rhoades’ positive status; the man did not, however, contract HIV.
Advocates have argued that the law unjustly punished people, even for having safe sex. The court’s ruling — which rested heavily on newer understandings of the HIV virus — should send a message to other states with similar laws, Rhoades told The Des Moines Register.
“I’ve gone through a lot of suffering, my family’s gone through a lot of suffering, but I’d like to believe that my case is going to be a catalyst for change, and if that’s the case, everything I’ve gone through is so worth it,” he said.
Rhoades pleaded guilty and began serving the 25-year sentence before a district court judge released him and put him on a five-year probation.
In the majority opinion, Justice David Wiggins acknowledged several points that Rhoades’ defense attorneys argued made Rhoades’ guilty plea unjust. Rhoades’ attorneys argued that he had a low viral load — the amount of HIV in Rhoades’ blood — that greatly reduced the risk of transmission, even during an unprotected oral sex act that also happened.
Rhoades used a condom during sex, taking precautions to ensure the man wasn’t exposed to bodily fluids, his attorneys argued. In the ruling, Wiggins wrote that modern medical advances and treatment options for HIV-infected people should be considered in Rhoades’ case.
“Today we are unable to take judicial notice that an infected individual can transmit HIV when an infected person engages in protected anal sex with another person or unprotected oral sex, regardless of the infected person’s viral load,” Wiggins wrote. “The evidence … shows there have been great strides in the treatment and the prevention of the spread of HIV.”