Man admits sexual contact with teen; HIV charge dropped

An Edgemere man pleaded guilty Wednesday to having sexual contact with a teenage boy, in a plea deal that allowed him to avoid trial on a rarely used charge of exposing a victim to the HIV virus.

Steven Douglas Podles, 36, was charged after police said he engaged in sexual activity with a 13-year-old outside the teen's home in February 2012.

Podles had been treated for HIV, prosecutors said, but the boy did not contract the disease.

The two met on Grindr, an adult dating app that requires users to be 18 or older. Podles met the boy near his home and they engaged in oral sex in Podles' car. The teen's parents later notified police after finding out their son had met Podles and other defendants for sex.

"I can't even begin to explain to you what this has done to our family," the victim's mother told Baltimore County Circuit Judge Justin J. King. The teen did not appear in court. The Baltimore Sun does not identify the victims of sex crimes, and is not naming the mother to avoid identifying the teen.

Podles' attorney, Isaac Klein, said Podles was not acting inappropriately when he logged onto the adult website and that he was not looking to meet children. He said Podles also had no prior criminal record. Podles received a nine-year sentence with all but two years suspended, plus five years' probation. He will have to register as a sex offender.

"My life has been turned upside down as well," Podles said, apologizing to the victim's family and adding that he would have to live with the experience for the rest of his life.

The case drew attention because HIV transmission laws have met recently with increased criticism. Opponents say such laws do not prevent the spread of the virus and instead hurt public health initiatives by discouraging those who could be at risk from getting tested and seeking treatment.

Many states adopted laws providing for criminal charges against people accused of transmitting the disease in the early 1990s, in an effort to deter the spread of the disease.

But recently, several states have considered disposing of such laws, and two years ago, the White House recommended against HIV criminalization. Maryland's law is less severe than other states', but those convicted can serve up to three years in prison.

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