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COA adopts 'compromise approach' of theory

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a man's conviction of child molesting, ruling he failed to prove the trial court erred by excluding certain evidence regarding his victim. The appellate court also examined the "sexual innocence inference theory" and adopted the compromise view of some courts when balancing a defendant's Sixth Amendment rights with the policy behind the Rape Shield Rule.

Arthur Oatts challenged his conviction of child molesting against his granddaughter in Arthur Oatts v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0805-CV-447. Oatts claimed the trial court abused its discretion by excluding evidence his granddaughter had previously seen an allegedly pornographic video and previously had been molested; and the court erred by responding to jury questions during deliberations after the jury indicated it arrived at a decision.

The Indiana Court of Appeals determined based on caselaw and a previous Indiana Supreme Court holding that under Indiana Evidence Rule 412, the state's Rape Shield Rule, the trial court didn't err by not allowing evidence Oatts' granddaughter had seen a pornographic tape and had been previously molested.

In order to determine whether Oatts' constitutional rights were violated because the exclusion of the evidence didn't allow him to cross examine a witness. The state's high court has held Indiana's Rape Shield Statute doesn't violate the Sixth Amendment right to confrontation absent a showing of actual impingement on cross examination. Oatts believed the excluded evidence was relevant to show his granddaughter had knowledge of the nature of sex acts and the investigative process, a theory the Court of Appeals referred to as the sexual innocence inference theory.

Courts across the country are split in their approach to the theory, but the Indiana appellate court adopted the compromise view courts in Arizona and Wisconsin have followed. The compromise view might grant the accused a right to introduce evidence of the victim's sexual contact with a third party if the conduct in question was not only unusual but strikingly similar to the alleged misconduct with the accused, wrote Judge Elaine Brown. This view places the burden on Oatts to show the prior sexual act happened and it was sufficiently similar to the present act to give his granddaughter knowledge to imagine the molestation charge. But Oatts failed to prove that, so the appellate court can't say his constitutional rights were violated, wrote the judge.

The Indiana Court of Appeals also found the trial court didn't abuse its discretion by responding to jury questions. The appellate court can't say the trial court's answer to the jury's question emphasized any particular instruction or that Oatts was prejudiced by the answer.

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  1. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

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  3. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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