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“It’s based in just a lot of fear and misconception.” Being HIV-positive can still carry a powerful stigma. The department has won settlements from state prisons, medical clinics, schools, funeral homes, insurance companies, day care centers and even alcohol rehab centers for discriminating against HIV-positive people.Individuals with HIV may also fear that news of their status will spread to third parties, leading to rejection, embarrassment or ostracism for themselves or even their loved ones.A national group of AIDS public health officials later submitted a brief estimating that the odds of Rhoades infecting Plendl were “likely zero or near zero.” After his lawyers petitioned the court, Rhoades’ prison sentence was changed to five years’ probation.But for the rest of his life — he is 39 — he will remain registered as an aggravated sex offender who cannot be alone with anyone under the age of 14, not even his nieces and nephews. Over the last decade, there have been at least 541 cases in which people were convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, criminal charges for not disclosing that they were HIV-positive, according to a Pro Publica analysis of records from 19 states. Defendants in these cases were often sentenced to years — sometimes decades — in prison, even when they used a condom or took other precautions against infecting their partners.In a recent survey of HIV-positive people in New Jersey, 90 percent said that people with the virus bore most of the responsibility to protect their partners.More than half approved of the kind of laws that resulted in Rhoades’ sentence.The national tally is surely higher, because at least 35 states have laws that specifically criminalize exposing another person to HIV. In 60 cases for which extensive documentation could be obtained, Pro Publica found just four involving complainants who actually became infected with HIV.
Such laws, then, provide a powerful disincentive for citizens to get tested and learn if they carry the virus.
“One thing that makes this case difficult is you don’t look like our usual criminals,” Harris said. But you created a situation that was just as dangerous as anyone who did that.” The judge meted out Rhoades’ sentence: 25 years in prison.
“Often times for the court it is easy to tell when someone is dangerous. His crime: having sex without first disclosing he had HIV.
Lab results and a bottle of pills found in the Rhoades’ refrigerator confirmed the detectives’ suspicions: Nick Rhoades was HIV-positive.
Almost a year later, in a Black Hawk County courtroom, Judge Bradley Harris peered down at Rhoades from his bench.