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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. 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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