An Iowa court has overturned the conviction of a man who was charged with illegally exposing someone to HIV, despite using a condom.

In 2008, after a sexual encounter in which he did not disclose his status, Nick Rhoades was convicted of “Criminal Transmission of HIV”, even though his accuser did not contract HIV, he used a condom, and his viral load was undetectable.

Rhoades was sentenced to 25 years in prison – a year later he was released with five years’ probation, but was placed on the sex offenders’ register.

However, following a challenge by Lambda Legal the Iowa Supreme Court has today overturned the conviction, finding that he did not meet the requirements for conviction.

Justice David Wiggins wrote: “Based on the state of medicine both now and at the time of the plea in 2009, we are unable to take judicial notice that an infected individual can transmit HIV, regardless of an infected individual’s viral load, when that individual engages in protected anal or unprotected oral sex with an uninfected person.

Christopher Clark, Counsel for Lambda Legal wrote: “We applaud the Court for applying the law in light of current medical understanding of how HIV is and is not transmitted.

“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 importance of the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision cannot be overstated. We look forward to making these arguments again and to taking this Court’s clear guidance on the interpretation and application of these types of laws to the many jurisdictions in which HIV criminalization remains a pressing issue.”

Scott Schoettes, Lambda Legal HIV Project Director added: “In light of today’s decision, we believe that additional modifications to the state’s infectious disease law should be considered.

“Great strides were made through the law’s recent amendment, and we are hopeful that today’s decision — acknowledging the effectiveness of various HIV prevention measures — will fuel the Iowa Legislature’s clear desire to bring the state’s law fully up to date.”

Thirty-nine US states have HIV-specific criminal statutes, resulting in more than 160 prosecutions in the past four years.