Rapist loses appeal of assault convictions against ex

A convicted rapist has failed to overturn his convictions of sexual assault against his ex-girlfriend, with the Indiana Court of Appeals rejecting his challenges to the trial court’s evidentiary and procedural rulings.

The case of Joseph K. Smith v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-1515, began in 2013, when Joseph Smith and J.R. began a romantic relationship. The couple has two children but broke up in 2017.

In the summer of 2018, however, Smith and J.R. – who had a new boyfriend, Aaron Perry – began exchanging messages. They also spent time together at the homes of mutual friends.

On Aug. 2, 2018, Smith texted J.R. for a ride home and asked that she wear a dress to pick him up. J.R., who had been wearing pants, agreed to the request and picked him up from an Indianapolis home, where he was waiting with a red bookbag.

Smith entered the car and told J.R. to pull into the alley behind the home, pulling a “knife-like” letter opener out of the bag and telling her she “was either going to give him what he wanted, or he was going to take it from [her].” When J.R. complied and turned the car off, Smith pulled out a small clamp, an eyeglasses lanyard and handcuffs.

J.R. told Smith she did not want any sexual contact, but Smith pulled down the top of her dress and exposed her right breast. He placed the clamp on her nipple, pushed aside her underwear and placed his fingers in her vagina. Smith then exited the vehicle and pulled the lanyard around J.R.’s neck to the point where she couldn’t breathe and was losing consciousness while using his free hand to digitally penetrate her.

J.R. fought back, but once Smith released the lanyard, he forced her onto her hands and knees and placed his mouth on her vagina. It was at this point J.R. was able to push Smith away.

Because J.R. did not know how to get Smith to exit the vehicle, she complied with a request to take him to get a drink before leaving him at a plasma donation center. But before he left, Smith told J.R. he would tell Perry about their sexual encounter and took a photo of J.R. in the car for proof. J.R. deleted her messages with Smith from her phone.

J.R. then called a friend, who called Perry. Both traveled to J.R.’s home, and the friend called the police. Perry left before police arrived.

A subsequent sexual assault examination revealed J.R. had sustained injuries consistent with strangulation by ligature and vaginal digital penetration. Also, J.R.’s post-assault sexual history indicted she and Perry had “engaged in the consensual sexual acts”.

However, at a pretrial hearing after Smith was charged, J.R. denied having post-assault sexual contact with Perry and claimed she did not tell the nurse she had done so. The nurse herself doubted the accuracy of the post-assault report, pointing to technological issues with the hospital’s electronic charting.

Thus, the Marion Superior Court denied Smith’s motion to admit the post-assault sexual history report. But the trial court granted his motion for an order in limine prohibiting the state from admitting J.R.’s medical records or evidence that J.R. had previously obtained a protective order against him.

During her testimony, however, J.R. testified that she had agreed to change into a dress before meeting Smith because if she didn’t, Smith had said he would tell Perry about their contact, which was against the restraining order. Smith moved for a mistrial based on a violation of the order in limine, but the trial court denied his motion.

Smith was ultimately convicted of felony rape, criminal confinement and strangulation, as well as a misdemeanor count of domestic battery. He received a 30-year sentence, with eight years suspended.

The Indiana Court of appeals upheld each of Smith’s convictions in a Thursday opinion, with Judge Patricia Riley first rejecting his argument that the trial court erred by excluding the post-assault sexual history report. Specifically, Riley rejected arguments that exceptions to Indiana’s “Rape Shield Rule” — Evidence Rule 412 — applied.

“Smith urges that … J.R.’s Post-Assault Sexual History was relevant to prove that someone other than he caused the injury to J.R.’s vagina,” Riley wrote. “However, the State did not introduce evidence of the injury to J.R.’s vagina at trial, and, therefore, there was nothing for Smith to rebut with the Post-Assault Sexual History evidence.

“… Smith had every opportunity to develop his own account of the events at issue,” the judge continued. “Smith was simply prevented from presenting the jury with evidence of J.R.’s other sexual behavior which allegedly occurred after the offenses and had nothing to do with the events which formed the bases for the charges against him.”

The appellate panel also affirmed the trial court’s denial of Smith’s motion for a mistrial, agreeing with the trial court that J.R.’s reference to the protective order did not place Smith in “grave peril.”

“Given that this was an isolated reference which took place during a two-day trial, the other evidence of Smith’s guilt, some of which was corroborated by physical evidence, and the State’s effective cross-examination of Smith, we conclude that J.R.’s reference to the protective order probably had very little persuasive effect on the jury,” Riley wrote.

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