Cynthia L. Ploughe
David R. Hennessy
Attorney General of Indiana
Deputy Attorney General
Indianapolis, IndianaAttorneys for Appellee
Hammerle Foster Allen & Long-Sharp
Cynthia L. Ploughe
David R. Hennessy
STATE OF INDIANA,
Appellant (Plaintiff below),
Appellee (Defendant below).
) Supreme Court No.
) Court of Appeals No.
John Walton was acquitted of rape after the trial court admitted evidence of prior false accusations of rape by the complaining witness. On the State's reserved question of law, the Court of Appeals determined that Walton had not carried his burden in showing the
accusations to be demonstrably false and that the evidence should have not been admitted.
Finding the evidence to have been properly admitted, we affirm the trial court.
At the evidentiary hearing, Defendant presented testimony from two of the complaining witness's former co-workers. Both co-workers testified that they were friends of the
complaining witness, and that she had told them that she had been raped on two prior
occasions. In addition, both witnesses testified that the complaining witness told them that
her child was a product of one of the rapes. As part of her own testimony, the complaining
witness denied having made any such allegations. In addition, the complaining witness
denied that she had been raped before.
Effective January 1, 1994, this Court adopted the Indiana Rules of Evidence. The
provisions of Indiana Evidence Rule 412 _ the current Rape Shield Rule _ and Indiana
Evidence Rule 608, have raised in the view of some observers an open question as to
whether the prior false allegation exception still obtains. See Robert Lowell Miller, Indiana
Practice, § 608.206, at 150 (2d ed. 1995) (concluding that it cannot be said with certainty
whether common law exceptions have survived the adoption of the Rules of Evidence); see
also Walton, 692 N.E.2d at 499 n.6. ([V]itality of the Rape Shield exceptions subsequent
to the Indiana Rules of Evidence taking effect in 1994 is an open question.).
against surprise, harassment, and unnecessary invasion of privacy, and,
importantly, to remove obstacles to reporting sex crimes.
Williams v. State, 681 N.E.2d 195, 200 (Ind. 1997). Consequently, [t]he Rule does not permit the trial to stray from the central issue of guilt or innocence of the defendant into a full-scale investigation of charges made by the prosecutrix against other persons. Stewart v. State, 531 N.E.2d 1146, 1149 (Ind. 1988).
Rule 412 is designed only to preclude evidence of a complaining witness's prior sexual conduct. Evidence of prior false accusations of rape made by a complaining witness does not constitute prior sexual conduct for rape shield purposes.See footnote 6 In presenting such evidence, the defendant is not probing the complaining witness's sexual history. Rather, the defendant seeks to prove for impeachment purposes that the complaining witness has previously made false accusations of rape. Viewed in this light, such evidence is more properly understood as verbal conduct, not sexual conduct. Little v. State, 413 N.E.2d 639, 643 (Ind. Ct. App. 1980); Hall v. State, 374 N.E.2d 62, 65 (Ind. Ct. App. 1978).See footnote 7 To the extent a defendant offers evidence of prior false accusations of rape to impeach the credibil
ity of the witness, we hold that its admission does not run afoul of the Rape Shield Rule.
In this context, however, evidentiary constraints must sometimes yield to a defendant's right of cross-examination. Clinebell v. Commonwealth , 368 S.E.2d 263, 266 (Va. 1988); see also Mengon v. State, 505 N.E.2d 788, 792 (Ind. 1987) (holding that a party's right to cross-examination should not be unduly limited by the court). A defendant's Sixth
Amendment right of confrontation requires that the defendant be afforded an opportunity to
conduct effective cross-examination of State witnesses in order to test their believability.
Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 315-18 (1974); Timberlake v. State, 690 N.E.2d 243, 255
(Ind. 1997), cert. denied, 119 S. Ct. 808 (1999). Coates v. State, 534 N.E.2d 1087, 1095
(Ind. 1989). The right to cross-examine, as well as other forms of confrontation, 'ensure
[sic] that evidence admitted against an accused is reliable and subject to the rigorous
adversarial testing that is the norm of Anglo-American criminal proceedings.' Tague v.
Richards, 3 F.3d 1133, 1138 (7th Cir. 1993) (quoting Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. 836, 846
(1990)). Accordingly, the majority of jurisdictions that have considered the question _
including Indiana cases decided before the adoption of the Rules of Evidence _ have held
that the evidentiary rule preventing evidence of specific acts of untruthfulness must yield to
the defendant's Sixth Amendment right of confrontation and right to present a full defense.See footnote
Finding both the reasoning and weight of this authority persuasive, we hold that evidence
of prior false accusations of rape is admissible to attack the credibility of the accusing
witness, notwithstanding the general exclusionary edict of Rule 608(b).
Case law from other jurisdictions indicates a variety of standards used for determining whether an accused has met the burden of establishing the falsity of prior accusations of
rape. Some courts have concluded that a trial judge must determine that a reasonable
probability of falsity exists. See Smith v. State, 377 S.E.2d 158, 160 (Ga.), cert. denied, 493
U.S. 825 (1989); Clinebell, 368 S.E.2d at 266. Others have required some factual basis
of falsity. Commonwealth v. Bohannon, 378 N.E.2d 987, 991 (Mass. 1978). Still others
have required that the falsity of prior accusations be shown convincingly. Hughes v.
Raines, 641 F.2d 790, 792 (9th Cir. 1981).
In Stewart v. State, this Court concluded that evidence of prior false accusations of rape may be admitted if (1) the complaining witness admits he or she made a prior false accusation of rape; or (2) the accusation is demonstrably false. 531 N.E.2d 1146, 1149 (Ind.
1988) (citing Little v. State, 413 N.E.2d 639, 643 (Ind. Ct. App. 1980)). Here, the complaining witness has not admitted to making any false accusations, rendering the first
exception set forth above inapplicable. As such, the accusations must be demonstrably
When a trial court has made a ruling concerning the sufficiency of the foundation laid
to justify the admission of evidence, we review that decision for an abuse of discretion.
Mullins v. State, 646 N.E.2d 40, 51 (Ind. 1995). Because the predicates or foundational
requirements to admissibility often require factual determinations by the trial court, these
findings are entitled to the same deference on appeal as any other factual finding, whether
that is described as a clearly erroneous or abuse of discretion standard. Stahl v. State, 686
N.E.2d 89, 91 (Ind. 1997).
In this case, the trial court heard two witnesses testify that the complaining witness told them that she had been raped on two separate occasions involving two different individuals. (R. at 196-97; 1388-90). We find this adequate to support the trial court's factual determination that the accusations were in fact made. Later, the trial court heard from the complaining witness, who testified that the rapes that were the subject of the accusations had not occurred, and further denied having ever made the accusations. (R. at 578-80). Here again, we find that the trial court's discretion in determining the credibility of this witness should be honored.
The Court of Appeals pointed out that while no bright line rule can be established
for determining whether a prior accusation is demonstrably false, the demonstrably false
standard is more stringent than a mere credibility determination. State v. Walton, 692
N.E.2d 496, 501 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998). However, given the fact sensitive nature of the
determination, the fact that credibility evaluations lie within the exclusive province of the
trial court, and the constitutional and policy considerations furthered by the admission of
such evidence, we cannot conclude that the evidence is insufficient in this case.See footnote
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, SELBY, and BOEHM, JJ., concur.
In any event, Stewart clearly contemplates that proof of a prior false accusation may exist even without the complaining witness's admission.
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