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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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