Demonstrably Durable: Indiana Case Reveals Indiana Courts Still Recognize Demonstrably False Accusation Exception To Rape Shield Rule

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"Under common law, evidence of prior false allegations of sexual misconduct is admissible if the allegation was demonstrably false and similar to that with which the defendant was charged, or if the complaining witness has admitted that the prior accusation was false." Jack Kenney, Prior False Allegations of Sexual Misconduct, Other Holdings 41-JUN Res Gestae 30, 30 (1998).

The recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Indiana in Wells v. State, 2010 WL 2396283 (Ind.App. 2010), reveals that Indiana courts still recognize this common law rule as an exception to Indiana’s rape shield rule and the unlikelihood that defendants will be able to use it to their advantage. 

In Wells, Jason Wells was convicted of Child Molesting based upon acts that he allegedly committed against A.W., his then 13 year-old daughter. At trial, the court prevented Wells from presenting evidence that A.W. had made somewhat similar allegations to her brother and a friend against another individual around the same time she reported sexual abuse by her father. Unlike the allegations against Wells, A.W. did not make these allegations to police, and no charges were ever brought against this other individual.

After he was convicted, Wells appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the trial court erred by precluding him from presenting this evidence.  The Court of Appeals of Indiana noted that there are only four codified exceptions to the proscription in Indiana’s rape shield rule — Indiana Rule of Evidence 412 — on the admission of evidence of past sexual conduct by a witness or the alleged victim: The rule allows for the admission of

(1) evidence of the victim’s or of a witness’s past sexual conduct with the defendant;

(2) evidence which shows that some person other than the defendant committed the act upon which the prosecution is founded;

(3) evidence that the victim’s pregnancy at the time of trial was not caused by the defendant; or

(4) evidence of conviction for a crime to impeach under Rule 609.

The court went on to note, however, that

There is also a common law exception to this rule when a defendant seeks to introduce evidence of a prior false accusation of rape….Thus, evidence of prior false accusations may be admitted, but only if (1) the complaining witness admits he or she made a prior false accusation of rape; or (2) the accusation is demonstrably false….Prior accusations are demonstrably false where the victim has admitted the falsity of the charges or they have been disproved.

But the court then found that Wells failed to satisfy either of these tests because "A.W. ha[d] not admitted that her accusation [wa]s false and there [wa]s no other evidence in the record tending to establish that the accusation was demonstrably false." Moreover, the court found that "Indiana’s Rape Shield Statute has repeatedly been found constitutional on its face so long as it does not violate a defendant’s right to cross-examination" and that "Wells was able to cross-examine A.W. and all other witnesses about the alleged molestation and A.W.’s general character, and it was Wells’s failure to present relevant evidence establishing the falsity of her prior rape allegations that led to the exclusion of the proffered evidence."

-Colin Miller

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