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Judges disagree on intent issue in rape trial

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A panel of Indiana Court of Appeals judges disagreed as to whether a defendant in a rape case put his intent at issue during trial by attempting to show his victim consented to sex with him.

In Otho L. Lafayette v. State of Indiana, No. 45A03-0803-CR-118, Otho Lafayette was charged with eight counts, including rape and sexual battery, following an incident with a woman, C.E., who he met at a gas station. They exchanged phone numbers and spoke by phone several times over the course of a month until Lafayette suggested they go to dinner. They met and he took her at gunpoint to an apartment where he raped her.

At trial, the state wanted to have another woman, E.C., testify. Lafayette was convicted of attempting to rape E.C. in 1997. The trial court admitted E.C.'s testimony pursuant to Ind. Evid. Rule 404(b) over Lafayette's objections.

At issue in the appeal is whether E.C.'s testimony should have been allowed. Judges Terry Crone and James Kirsch, who concurred in a separate opinion, found the testimony shouldn't have been admitted to show what Lafayette's intent was with C.E. The state suggested Lafayette put his intent at issue when he gave a statement to police that the sex was consensual and when his counsel explored the issue of C.E.'s credibility during voir dire and opening statements. This meant the state should be able to use the 404(b) evidence to show contrary intent, the state argued.

The majority ruled that a criminal defendant doesn't put his intent at issue at any stage of the proceedings merely by questioning a victim's credibility, wrote Judge Crone. Also by asserting an alleged rape victim consented to sex doesn't present a claim of particular contrary intent for purposes of 404(b). Based on Indiana Supreme Court precedent, the majority held E.C.'s testimony wasn't admissible to prove whether C.E. consented to having sex with Lafayette. They also ruled E.C.'s testimony shouldn't have been allowed under Ind. Evid. Rule 402.

The judges found the admittance of E.C.'s testimony to not be a harmless error and believed it prejudicially impacted the jury and contributed to Lafayette's guilty verdict. The majority remanded for a new trial.

Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented because she believed Lafayette put his intent at issue during trial and the evidence of his previous attempted rape was relevant. Because he admitted he had sex with C.E., the relevant intent in this case is Lafayette's intent to use or threaten force. The Court of Appeals has previously ruled where a defendant in a rape case alleges the sex was consensual, the defendant placed his contrary intent at issue for the purpose of Rule 404(b), wrote Judge Vaidik. Transcripts of the trial show his defense counsel avoided the terms "consent" or "consensual" but still placed Lafayette's contrary intent - the victim's consent - at issue.

Judge Vaidik also wrote Lafayette's previous attempted rape conviction is admissible under Evid. Rule 402 because it revealed a nearly identical scenario in how Lafayette met both women and got them alone to attack them.

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  1. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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