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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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