The Indiana Supreme Court was divided Wednesday in an opinion regarding whether a man could be charged with Class C felony child molesting 16 years after he last molested his stepniece.
Jeffery Sloan was convicted of Class A felony and Class C felony child molesting of his stepniece nearly 20 years after the last time he molested her. During the molestations when she was between the ages of six and 13, he told his stepniece that she should not tell anyone and that she would go to jail if she did. After 1991, the victim, M.A., began having less contact with Sloan, and she finally told her stepfather in 2007 about the molestations. She reported the molestation to the authorities in 2008.
Sloan filed a motion to dismiss his Class C felony charge, claiming it was filed well after the five-year statute of limitations. The Class A felony charge is not subject to a statute of limitations. The state argued Sloan committed acts of concealment which tolled the statute of limitations. The court denied his motion, and after he was convicted on both charges Sloan tried to have the judgment vacated, claiming double jeopardy violations. That motion was also denied and he was sentenced to 46 years.
The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed his Class C felony conviction, holding that tolling ends under the concealment statute when the defendant’s acts of concealment terminated, not when the victim tells authorities about the crime. It claimed under the concealment-tolling provision of Indiana Code 35-41-4-2(h)(2), the concealment ended in 1991 when the molestations ended and Sloan and his victim had less contact with each other.
But in Jeffery Sloan v. State of Indiana, No. 18S04-1009-CR-502, the majority of justices disagreed, citing Crider v. State, 531 N.E.2d 1151 (Ind. 1988), and I.C. 35-41-4-2(h)(2).
“The tolling provision affords a bright-line rule: once concealment has been found, tolling ends when evidence sufficient to charge the defendant becomes known to the prosecuting authority if that authority could not have discovered the evidence by the exercise of due diligence. Crider interpreted Indiana Code section 35-41-4-2(h)(2) accordingly,” wrote Justice Steven David for the majority. “In cases where threats or intimidation of a victim amount to concealment, the means by which a prosecuting authority becomes aware of sufficient evidence is often through the victim’s disclosure to that authority.”
The majority held once concealment is found, the relevant inquiry is when the prosecuting authority becomes aware or should have become aware of sufficient evidence to charge the defendant, and at that point, tolling ends and the statute of limitations begins to run.
Justice David noted that a strict reading of I.C. 35-41-4-2(h)(2) could toll the statutes of limitations for many other crimes, and that courts will still need to determine whether concealment exists in the first place.
On this matter, Justice Frank Sullivan dissented to which Justice Robert Rucker concurred. Justice Sullivan found himself in an “intermediate” position between what the majority held and how the Court of Appeals ruled.
“I do not agree with the Court of Appeals that once the defendant ceases threats and intimidation, the statute begins to run. Here the majority is most persuasive in pointing out that a victim may be too scared to report a molestation long after any specific threats or intimidation have ended,” he wrote. “In my view, the statutory tolling period should cease at the point in time when the victim no longer reasonably fears material retaliation or other adverse consequences from a defendant’s threats or intimidation.”
He believed it was clear that more than five years had passed since the time the victim ended reasonably fearing material retaliation or adverse consequences for reporting the crimes.
The majority also addressed Sloan’s double jeopardy claims, finding the state established that Sloan committed two separate criminal offenses based on distinct facts. They upheld his convictions and sentence.