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Supreme Court reverses rape conviction

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The Indiana Supreme Court overturned a man's rape conviction because evidence of his 10-year-old conviction of attempted rape of another woman shouldn't have been admitted at trial.

Indiana Evidence Rule 404(b) prohibits the use of evidence of prior crimes "to prove the character of a person in order to show the action in conformity therewith" except in certain circumstances. The justices unanimously decided in Otho L. Lafayette v. State of Indiana, No. 45S03-0904-CR-812, that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of Otho Lafayette's prior attempted rape conviction and ordered a new trial.

Wickizer v. State, 626 N.E.2d 795 (Ind. 1993), determined the state was best served by a narrow construction of Evid. R. 404(b) and held that the intent exception is available when a defendant goes beyond merely denying the charges and alleges a particular contrary intent. The state then can offer evidence of prior crimes to prove intent at the time of the charged offense.

Lafayette never denied having sex with the woman, C.E., but claimed it was consensual.

Lafayette filed a pre-trial motion to prevent the admission of his prior conviction and the court took it under advisement. It then allowed the evidence after determining Lafayette placed his intent at issue when he attacked the credibility of his accuser on the issue of her consent and the court found it was relevant to determine whether he possessed the requisite intent to rape his victim.

Neither state appellate court has addressed the question of whether challenging the credibility of a prosecuting witness in a rape case on the issue of consent puts the defendant's intent at issue. But Indiana precedent dictates the use of the defense of consent in a rape prosecution isn't, standing alone, enough to trigger the availability of the intent exception, wrote Justice Frank Sullivan.

"When a defendant questions the credibility of the prosecuting witness, we believe that the defendant does no more than advance that consent defense," he wrote. "...If a defendant's intent were placed at issue by the questioning of the prosecuting witness's credibility, then the defendant is effectively precluded from exercising the right to confront a witness's credibility at all."

The Supreme Court also agreed with Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Terry Crone, who wrote the majority opinion for that court, that a defendant's assertions that an alleged rape victim consented to sex doesn't present a claim of particular contrary intent for purposes of triggering the intent exception to Evid. R. 404(b), wrote Justice Sullivan. The justices also agreed with Judge Crone that the prior attempted rape conviction wasn't admissible because it wasn't relevant to prove the victim consented to having sex with Lafayette.

The admission of this evidence wasn't a harmless error and requires Lafayette's conviction be reversed, the high court determined.

"Indeed, on review of the record, one is left with the unmistakable and forbidden impression that because the defendant was convicted of attempted rape in 1997, he must have raped C.E. in 2007," Justice Sullivan wrote.

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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