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Meet the Nasty Iowa Judge

Figure this one out: earlier this month Judge Bradley Harris sentenced an HIV-positive Iowa man to a 25-year prison term for not infecting someone with HIV.Here’s what happened. According to published news reports, an Iowa man named Nick Rhoades met another man in an internet chat room back in June of 2008. The two agreed to get together for sex. Rhoades did not disclose his HIV status.

A week or so later Rhoades’s sex partner learned through friends that Rhoades was HIV-positive. He went to the police and had Rhoades arrested. When the case finally got before Judge Harris earlier this month (nearly a year since the two men had sex) Rhoades admitted his wrongdoing, pled guilty and expressed remorse. “I always wanted to be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” he told the judge. “Clearly I’ve fallen short in this case.”

The man with whom Rhoades had sex one time, 11 months ago, has repeatedly tested negative for HIV.

I’m sure we can all agree that Rhoades should have disclosed his HIV status before engaging in sex. We might also agree that Rhoades’s sex partner could have insisted on using a condom no matter what Rhoades said; after all, trusting the word of a complete stranger is hardly a wise HIV prevention strategy.

In any event, Rhoades did not infect the other man. He pled guilty to the charge, which only required that he had put the other man at risk. And for this single act of consensual sex which caused no harm to anyone, Judge Harris sentenced Rhoades to 25 years in prison.

Consider the sentences handed down in similar cases. Last year an Arkansas man was given 12 years in prison after not disclosing his HIV status to two long-term girlfriends (Rhoades, by contrast, put his sex partner at risk only once). Also last year, a Swedish court handed down a 14-year sentence to an HIV-positive man who had sex with over a dozen women without disclosing his status. Two of them became infected. Six of them were under the age of 15.

As part of his ruling, Judge Harris decreed that he could amend Rhoades’s sentence anytime in the next 12 months. So if you’d like to advise the judge, you can reach him at the State of Iowa District Court, 315 E. 5th Street, Waterloo, IA 50703.

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