ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE
Kevin C. Tankersley Jeffrey A. Modisett
Winamac, Indiana Attorney General of Indiana
Janet Brown Mallett
Deputy Attorney General
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
LOUIS J. BAKER ) ) Appellant (Defendant Below ), ) ) 66S04-0005-CR-345 v. ) in the Supreme Court ) STATE OF INDIANA, ) 66A04-9812-CR-585 ) in the Court of Appeals Appellee (Plaintiff Below ). )
July 17, 2001
With regard to his conviction for rape, Baker says the Court of Appeals
erroneously held that he failed to preserve his claim that the trial court
wrongly excluded evidence about his prior sexual conduct with McCann. (Appellants Petition
To Transfer at 1-2.) We agree, and grant transfer to so hold.
The convictions are otherwise affirmed.
McCann walked back toward her bedroom to retrieve a can of soda.
As she walked, she realized Baker had actually entered her home through a
window and she became frightened because I figured that he had broke in
. . . . (R. at 1130.)
After she picked up the soda from the bedroom floor, she discovered that Baker had followed her. He forced her onto the bed and raped her. Afterwards, he apologized and left.
Later that day, McCann and her husband reported the incident to the police.
The State eventually charged Baker with rape, burglary, residential entry, sexual battery,
It also alleged he was an habitual offender.
After a four-day trial, a jury found Baker guilty on all charges except
burglary. The trial court sentenced him to ten years in prison for
the four convictions, and added thirty years for being an habitual offender.
On appeal, Baker raised five issues:
1. Whether the trial court erred by allowing the prosecutors investigator to testify;
2. Whether the trial court erred by allowing the prosecutors investigator to read a transcript of his interview with Baker to the jury;
3. Whether evidence of Bakers criminal record was erroneously admitted;
4. Whether Bakers testimony about a prior sexual relationship with the victim was improperly excluded; and
5. Whether Bakers convictions for rape and sexual battery should be merged.
The Court of Appeals ruled against Baker on the first three issues, and we summarily affirm them on these points. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A). We proceed to examine the fourth issue. Our resolution of that question may render the fifth issue moot.
On October 9, 1998, Bakers attorney filed in open court a Supplement to
Defendants Notice of Past Sexual Conduct and asserted the defendant had a prior
sexual relationship with the victim. (R. at 367.) He claimed Baker
had multiple prior sexual contacts and an on-going affair with the victim.
(Id.) On October 12th, the State filed a motion in limine seeking
to keep the jury from hearing any evidence of the victims past sexual
conduct. At a pretrial hearing on October 14th, Baker testified he had
sexual relations with the victim about twenty times, beginning May 5, 1998.
(R. at 960-66.) McCann testified she never had consensual sex with Baker.
(R. at 971-73.)
The trial court granted the prosecutors motion in limine.
On the day Baker was scheduled to testify at trial, his attorney filed
Defendants Offer of Evidence Under Indiana Evidence Rule 412(a)(1). The document asserted
the defendant and the victim had some twenty acts of consensual sexual intercourse
in the months preceding the date of this alleged offense. (R. at
551.) It asked the court to make a specific ruling either revoking
its grant of the States Motion in Limine or affirming that ruling.
While Baker was on the stand, the following exchange occurred:
[Prosecutor] Calabrese: Hes getting awful close to the testimony that has already been ordered by this Court to be non-admissible. I just wanted to . . .
Mr. Tankersley: What testimony?
The Court: Youre not going to get into their prior sexual relationship, right?
Mr. Tankersley: Oh, no. Im not going anywhere near that.
The Court: Okay.
Mr. Tankersley: But I mean hes going to testify that he knows her.
Ms. Calabrese: Well, I know but any inference that they can draw from there, including the stuff, youre getting into the stuff that has already been taken out of this.
Mr. Tankersley: No, Im not. Hes not going to get into anything (inaudible).
The Court: Okay.
(R. at 1604) (emphasis added).
In the end, neither Baker nor any other witness testified about any prior
sexual history between Baker and McCann.
After the Court of Appeals issued its opinion, Bakers attorney filed a Motion
to Correct the Record of Proceedings under Ind. Appellate Rule 7.2(C)(2). Baker
asserted the record did not truly disclose what occurred in the trial court
because the transcript of proceedings does not include a discussion between Defense counsel
and the trial judge wherein the Defendants written offer of proof was discussed
and the trial court reaffirmed that the evidence would not be admissible at
trial. (Supp. R. at 12.)
In an affidavit filed with this motion, Tankersley said he filed his written offer in the courts office while the judge was present and told the judge he was filing it to preserve the prior sexual conduct issue for appellate review. He said he asked if the judge planned to change his mind and allow the evidence and the judge replied that he believed the evidence was more prejudicial than probative and would not allow the jury to hear it. Tankersley took that statement as a re-affirmation of the pretrial ruling.
In a hearing held February 29, 2000, on the motion to correct the record, the prosecutor countered that she was unaware of the foregoing events. She also pointed out that the defendant had several opportunities to make an offer of proof. At this hearing, Tankersley argued the important issue was whether the trial court considered Bakers Offer of Evidence Under Indiana Evidence Rule 412(a)(1), and whether or not the trial court re-affirmed its pretrial ruling. The trial court replied:
We may have had a casual conversation. I honestly dont remember, you know, exactly what was said. I I suppose my proper recollection is that, that I took this as your effort to preserve the issue since it was not going to be brought up in front of the jury.
(Supp. R. at 36.)
Later in the hearing the trial judge said:
I will say I assumed that it was your effort to preserve the issue which I had already spoken to on, on the motion in limine. So, I never [went] further beyond ruled on (sic) that because I felt it was your effort to preserve the, the issue, and so I didnt make any effort to rule on it in open court.
(Supp. R. at 40.)
The prosecutor argued that there was never any offer of proof when she, the trial court and the defendants attorney were all present. The defense argued that the sidebar colloquy, which occurred upon a prosecution objection, was an affirmation of the trial courts earlier decision to keep the issue of prior sexual conduct from the jury. Following this hearing, on February 29, 2000, the trial court entered an order stating, [T]he Court remembers receiving the Defendants Offer of Evidence Under Indiana Rule of Evidence 412(a)(1) and having made the same of record, outside the presence of the jury and off the record. (Supp. R. at 20.)
Miller, supra at 10 (citing Ind. Evid. R. 103(a)(2)). This technique gives
the trial court an opportunity to rule on its admissibility at that
time. Miller v. State, 716 N.E.2d 367, 370 (Ind. 1999)(quoting Tyra v.
State, 506 N.E.2d 1100, 1103 (Ind. 1987)). According to a leading authority
on evidence issues:
Prior to the offer of proof, the judge might not have appreciated the relevance of the line of inquiry. However, the primary, formal reason is to preserve the issue for appeal by including the proposed answer and expected proof in the official record of trial. In case of appeal from the judges ruling, the appellate court can better understand the scope and effect of the question and proposed answer to decide whether the judges ruling sustaining an objection was error, whether the error was prejudicial, and what final disposition to make on appeal.
1 McCormick on Evidence § 51, 217 (John W. Strong et al., 5th ed. 1999).
Another authority notes that an offer of proof will reduce uncertainty as to the nature of the excluded evidence to a tolerable and acceptable level; by doing so, the offer of proof serves to improve the reliability of the appellate courts guesses and estimates concerning the probability that the trial courts error was either prejudicial or harmless. 1 Wigmore, Evidence § 20a, 865 (Tillers rev. 1983)(emphasis in original). Professor Wigmores successors also point out that the requirement of an offer to prove limits the offers of nonexistent evidence with the hope of establishing a basis for appeal when they expect that the trial court will make an erroneous ruling that the (nonexistent) evidence will not be admitted. Id. at 866.
At least for these reasons, Indiana practice on preservation of error about
exclusion of evidence requires the proponent, out of the hearing of the jury,
to propose certain questions and give the court a chance to rule, and
make an offer of proof. When this procedure is not followed, as
explained in Mitchem v. State, 503 N.E.2d 889 (Ind. 1987), any claim
of error is not available for appellate review:
The proper remedy would have been to call [the] witness, and if objections to his testimony were lodged and sustained, an offer to prove could have been made by Appellant . . . It is well established that without the witness being called and questioned, and without an objection to his testimony being sustained, no offer to prove could have been made.
Id. at 893. Failure to follow this practice forfeits appellate review even
when the trial court earlier granted a motion in limine. Bieghler v.
State, 481 N.E.2d 78, 93 (Ind. 1985)(citing Smith v. State, 426 N.E.2d 364
The rule requiring an offer to prove serves a number of
useful purposes, but there is such a thing as being too rigid about
format. In the recent case of Vehorn v. State, 717 N.E.2d 869
(Ind. 1999), we concluded that the defense had come close enough. In
Vehorn, the defendant challenged the admissibility of a witness testimony at a pretrial
evidentiary hearing by objecting to the testimony as hearsay. Id. at 872.
The trial court heard argument and denied the defendants motion to exclude
the testimony. During the hearing, the trial court told both counsel that
if there is a close call on the admissibility of the evidence and
an objection is sustained, I dont want the Jurors to have heard that
. . . . Id. At trial the defense did not
object to the witness testimony. Id. On appeal, the State argued that
by failing to object at trial, the defense had waived any error.
Id. However, this Court held:
While the prudent lawyer will always provide a contemporaneous objection at trial so as to preserve an issue for appeal, there are occasional exceptions to this general rule. This case provides one of them. During the pretrial hearing, the judge provided explicit assurance that an objection as to [the witness] hearsay testimony was preserved for appeal when it told defense counsel that even if you dont object, the Court will find . . . that your objections to this type of evidence have been timely made.
Id. at 872-73. The trial court had effectively forbidden any objection in front of the jury, so we found the issue preserved. Id. at 873.
There are some obvious distinctions between Vehorn and Bakers case. Vehorn involved
the failure to make an objection at trial while Bakers attorney failed to
make an oral offer to prove at trial. In both cases, however,
the issue originated with a motion in limine and the key question in
both involves the preservation of the issue for appeal. The issues (hearsay
in Vehorn and prior sexual history here) were addressed during pretrial. Id.
at 872, (R. at 960-73). In Bakers case, a sidebar discussion of
the issue occurred immediately before the witness was to testify and the court
made its position plain. (R. at 1604.)
In Vehorn, the pretrial record showed the trial judge wanted to avoid an objection in front of the jury. Vehorn,717 N.E.2d at 872. In Bakers case, the sidebar conversation showed the courts similar intent, that any sexual history between the defendant and the victim should not be aired in front of the jury.
The trial judges own recollection that he made no effort to rule on it in open court, (Supp. R. at 40), because the defendant had already taken reasonable steps to preserve the issue further indicates the court had considered the matter and intended to enforce his earlier ruling. Finally, the trial court indicated he recalled receiving the defendants offer of evidence. (Supp. R. at 20.)
The primary reasons for requiring an offer to prove were satisfied. The
sidebar colloquy shows the trial court was aware of the evidence of sexual
history and at least implicitly re-affirmed his decision to exclude it. Given
the clear-cut nature of the proposed testimony (he asserts a sexual relationship; she
denies it), we find the issue sufficiently preserved for appeal.
Where the charge was rape and the defense was consent and only the
two parties were present, we find ourselves unable to say that prohibiting Baker
from offering evidence of a recent and regular sexual relationship did not affect
his substantial rights. See Ind. Trial Rule 61.
Bakers convictions for residential entry, sexual battery, misdemeanor battery, and the habitual offender
finding are otherwise affirmed. If the State elects not to retry the
rape charge, the trial court may conduct a new sentencing on these four
Dickson, Sullivan, Boehm, and Rucker, JJ., concur.