Iowa: Gay man gets 25 years for one-time non-disclosure to a single complainant

The following report and references to earlier cases, edited from Edwin J Bernard’s HIV transmission and criminalisation blog highlights the level of discrimination that still exists and the disproportionate severity (and hence vulnerability) faced by HIV-positive people.

Edwin J Bernard, web blog

The 25 year jail sentence for a gay man in Iowa earlier this week for not disclosing his HIV status prior to one-time sex with a man he met online, reaches new lows in the history of criminalisation. [1] This is a potential human rights violation almost on par with Willie Campbell’s 35 year prison sentence for spitting. [2]

The ‘Waterloo and Cedar Falls Courier’ reports that Judge Bradley Harris sentenced 34 year-old Nick Clayton Rhoades to 25 years in prison, the maximum punishment under Iowa’s draconian (and mistitled) “criminal HIV transmission” laws, following a guilty plea. [3, 4]

There was no transmission: the male complainant has not tested HIV-positive, and it is now almost a year since the encounter. This subtlety seems lost on the headline writer, who erroneously states: ‘ Plainfield man gets 25 years for “transmitting” HIV’.

Not only was there no sentence reduction due to Mr Rhoades’ plea (after all, he saved the court a lot of time and money; and let’s face it, it was one person’s word against the other, which could have gone either way with a jury), but Judge Harris additionally placed Mr Rhoades on lifetime parole and ordered him to pay court costs and restitution.

In addition, he ordered that must Mr Rhoades must: not contact the complainant for five years, register as a sex offender and undergo a sex offender treatment programme.

Rhoades, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1998, was arrested in September. Living with the virus is like “carrying a concealed weapon,” he told the court, saying he felt guilty for exposing an unknowing individual to the disease.

“I always wanted to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem,” said Rhoades, who had previously participated in AIDS education efforts. “Clearly, I’ve fallen short in this case.”

Mr Rhoades sounds like a genuinely remorseful man. He believes that he should have disclosed his status, and didn’t. Even if you agree with HIV disclosure laws in general – notwithstanding arguments supporting the concept of shared responsibility of both parties under these circumstances, or the unreliability of disclosure as a way of protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections – there really is absolutely no justification for this outrageously long prison sentence.

To put this into perspective. A year ago I reported on a 12 year HIV exposure sentence in Arkansas (where the maximum penalty is 30 years) for a man who did not disclose to his girlfriend. [5] At the time, it was the longest sentence I’d heard of for a single complainant. This is a single act!

Notwithstanding Johnson Aziga’s likely life sentence after recently being found guilty of murder, [6] the previous longest-ever sentence in Canada was 18 years, and that was for Carl Leone, with 15 complainants, including five who tested positive. [7] The longest sentence in Europe has been for Christer Aggett, sentenced to 14 years in prison in Sweden, with a dozen complainants, two of whom tested positive, and half of whom were under 15. [8]

In 2006, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the law after Adam Musser, 25, appealed his four convictions – and 25-year-prison sentences – for having unprotected sex with four different women in 2002 and not telling them he was HIV-positive. [9] And yet, in 2007, a woman who also pleaded guilty after not disclosing her status to a single complainant during a three month relationship, had her 25 year prison sentence suspended and received four years probation. [10]

Since Judge Harris has also ruled that he can adjust the sentence any time within the next 12 months (and there is already a precedent to suspend sentencing), I suggest that anyone who feels as outraged as I do, contact either Judge Harris, or Mary Stegmeir (mary.stegmeir@, the journalist who reported the case.

Source: Edwin J Bernard web blog (3 May 2009) 5/iowa-gay-man-gets-25-years-for-one-time.html


  1. s-iowa-man-arrested-for-unprotected.html
  2. las-man-gets-35-years-for.html
  3. reaking_news/doc49fb4f4b33dc0897631615.txt
  4. ndex.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=315&Itemid=45
  5. 3-year-old-arkansas-man-who-pleaded.html
  6. 4/canada-aziga-sentencing-delayed-pending.html
  7. 4/canada-carl-leone-sentenced-to-18-years.html
  8. den-british-man-sentenced-to-14.html
  9. -41E0-A5D8227A71CDE11B
  10. wa-woman-receives-probation-after.html

Links to other websites are current at date of posting but not maintained.