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Iowa Supreme Court Decision Represents Yet Another Breakthrough in HIV Decriminalization Efforts

In a landmark decision, the Iowa Supreme Court set aside the criminal conviction of Nick Rhoades, an HIV-positive man who pled guilty to “criminal transmission of HIV” in 2009.  Rhoades entered the plea on the advice of his attorney despite the fact that his accuser never actually acquired HIV. Rhoades used a condom when he had sex with this accuser and had an undetectable viral load, which made transmission virtually impossible.

“We applaud the Court for applying the law in light of current medical understanding of how HIV is and is not transmitted,” said Christopher Clark, the Lambda Legal attorney representing Rhoades. “An individual who takes precautions to prevent transmission should not be considered a criminal for choosing to be sexually active, and we are very pleased that the Court agrees.”

The court’s decision comes on the heels of two other milestones in the world of HIV decriminalization. Just last week, advocates convened at Grinnell College for the inaugural ‘HIV is Not a Crime’ conference. Sponsored by a coalition of HIV/AIDS, LGBT and other social justice organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, the conference focused on empowering participants to reform HIV-specific criminal statutes in the thirty-nine states where they exist.

The gathering kicked off the same week Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed legislation that modernized Iowa’s HIV criminalization law, then one of the worst in the country. Among other provisions, the bill included a clause that retroactively removed Rhoades and others convicted under the previous statute from required sex offender registration.

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