National Conference on HIV Criminalization

By Sterling Johnson, JD

Grinnell College in Iowa will host the first National Conference on HIV Criminalization next week, June 2-5 on its campus.

One of the stated goals of the conference will be to discuss the recent legislative changes in Iowa and how to apply the lessons to other states with laws that apply specifically to people with HIV.

Currently, 43 states criminalize actions by HIV-positive individuals. Check out our map at for more details.

US states with HIV criminalization laws

In 2009, Iowa became the center of this battle when Nick Rhoades, who is HIV-positive, had a one-time sexual encounter with another man, Adam Plendl. Three months after, Mr. Rhoades was arrested on suspicion of engaging in intimate contact without disclosing his HIV-positive status. At the time of the sexual encounter, he used a condom, had an undetectable viral load and his sexual partner did not contract HIV; however, Nick Rhoades was sentenced to 25 years in prison and classified as a sex offender. The case is now is now on appeal and being argued by Lambda Legal. The Iowa court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and the case is now under review by the Iowa Supreme Court. Mr. Rhoades’s case led to community organizers lobbying to reform the HIV criminalization law in Iowa.

On May 1, 2014, the Iowa House passed a bill modernizing the HIV criminalization law. The bill passed unanimously in the Iowa Senate in February. The governor now has until June 1 to sign the bill. Below are the main provisions of the law:

  • The bill repeals the statute passed in 1998, Iowa Code § 709C.1, which made it a felony for an HIV-positive to engage in any intimate contact;
  • The bill changes the intent necessary to be convicted under the infectious disease transmission statute. The statute now requires that the person purposefully or with reckless disregard transmit an infectious disease instead of merely having the knowledge that their HIV status is positive;
  • The bill expands the criminal law to include other infectious diseases including: hepatitis in any form, meningococcal disease, AIDS or HIV, and tuberculosis;
  • Lastly, the bill expunges the records of those individuals who had to register as sex offenders under the old HIV criminalization statute.

To view the full text of the bill, click here.

For more public health law research on HIV criminalization laws, see Carol Galletly, PhD’s work on the NJ HIV criminalization law, available here.

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