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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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  1. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

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