Sloan v. State

Decision Date01 June 2011
Docket NumberNo. 18S04–1009–CR–502.,18S04–1009–CR–502.
Citation947 N.E.2d 917
PartiesJeffery SLOAN, Appellant (Defendant below),v.STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Alan K. Wilson, Muncie, IN, Attorney for Appellant.

Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana, Nicole Dongieux Wiggins, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.

On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 18A04–0909–CR–544

DAVID, Justice.

We hold that once concealment has been established, statutes of limitations for criminal offenses are tolled under Indiana Code section 35–41–4–2(h) (2008) until a prosecuting authority becomes aware or should have become aware of sufficient evidence to charge the defendant. We also hold that under the facts of this case there was no double jeopardy violation because each challenged offense was established by separate and distinct facts.

Facts and Procedural History

M.A., the victim, was born on May 1, 1978. Jeffrey L. Sloan is M.A.'s step-uncle and is approximately eleven-and-a-half years older than her.

Sloan began molesting M.A. when she was six-years old and regularly molested her until she was thirteen. Over the seven years, Sloan inserted his finger into M.A.'s vagina “hundreds” of times and sometimes fondled and licked her breasts. After every occurrence, Sloan warned M.A. not to tell anyone. On at least one occasion, Sloan told M.A. she would go to jail if she disclosed the molestations. The last molestation occurred in 1991.

From that point onward, M.A. began to have less contact with Sloan. She saw him infrequently at family gatherings and would stay away from him if possible.

In 2007, M.A. told her stepfather about the molestations. M.A. disclosed the information because Sloan was dating a woman who had two daughters, and M.A. was concerned for their well-being. M.A.'s stepfather called Sloan to confront him; Sloan responded, “I thought she wanted it.” On June 9, 2008, M.A. and her stepfather reported Sloan's actions to the authorities. A few days later, Sloan made several recorded admissions.

Shortly after, the State charged Sloan with Class A felony child molesting 1 and Class C felony child molesting.2 Before trial, Sloan filed a motion to dismiss the Class C felony charge, arguing that it was filed well after the applicable five-year statute of limitations.3 At the motion hearing, the State contended that Sloan committed acts of concealment which tolled 4 the statute of limitations and pointed to our decision in Crider v. State, 531 N.E.2d 1151 (Ind.1988), for support. The trial court denied Sloan's motion to dismiss.

A jury convicted Sloan of both counts. Before sentencing, Sloan filed a motion to vacate judgment. Sloan argued convictions for both offenses violated double jeopardy principles because there was a reasonable possibility that the jury used the same evidence to convict defendant of both offenses. The trial court denied the motion. The trial court then sentenced Sloan to forty years for the Class A felony and six years for the Class C felony and ordered Sloan to serve the sentences consecutively.

Sloan appealed, arguing that (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss; (2) the trial court erred in denying his motion to vacate judgment; and (3) his sentence was inappropriate in light of the nature of the offenses and his character. The Court of Appeals agreed with Sloan's first argument and reversed his Class C felony conviction. Sloan v. State, 926 N.E.2d 1095, 1102 (Ind.Ct.App.2010). Consequently, the court did not reach the merits of Sloan's double jeopardy claim. Id. at 1102 n. 6. The Court of Appeals then found Sloan's sentence appropriate in light of the nature of the offenses and his character and affirmed the forty-year sentence for the Class A felony. Id. at 1102–03. Both the State and the defendant sought transfer.

We granted transfer to address when tolling ends under Indiana Code section 35–41–4–2(h)(2) once concealment has been found and to evaluate the merits of Sloan's double jeopardy claim. We summarily affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals that Sloan's sentence was appropriate in light of the nature of his offenses and his character. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A)(2).

Standard of Review

We review a matter of statutory interpretation de novo because it presents a question of law. Gardiner v. State, 928 N.E.2d 194, 196 (Ind.2010).

Similarly, we review a trial court's legal conclusions whether convictions violate double jeopardy de novo. See Goldsberry v. State, 821 N.E.2d 447, 458 (Ind.Ct.App.2005); cf. Spears v. State, 735 N.E.2d 1161, 1166 (Ind.2000) (noting that although this Court has not “expressly ruled” on the standard of review in double jeopardy cases, it has often treated reasonable possibility as a matter of law for de novo review).

I. Indiana Code section 35–41–4–2(h)(2)

For misdemeanors and most classes of felonies, Indiana has enacted statutes of limitations, which permit the commencement of criminal proceedings against defendants only within a fixed period of time from the commission of a crime. These statutes' primary purpose is to protect defendants from the prejudice that a delay in prosecution could bring, such as fading memories and stale evidence. See Kifer v. State, 740 N.E.2d 586, 587 (Ind.Ct.App.2000). They also “strike[ ] a balance between an individual's interest in repose and the State's interest in having sufficient time to investigate and build its case.” Heitman v. State, 627 N.E.2d 1307, 1309 (Ind.Ct.App.1994).

A tolling provision allows for an interruption of the statute-of-limitations period under certain circumstances. Essentially, these provisions allow prosecution to commence after the statute-of-limitations period would have otherwise run.

Indiana Code section 35–41–4–2(a)(1) applies to most classes of felonies, 5 including Sloan's Class C felony child-molesting charge, and sets a five-year limitation period for those crimes. Indiana Code section 35–41–4–2(h)(2), a concealment-tolling provision, tolls a statute of limitations if “the accused person conceals evidence of the offense, and evidence sufficient to charge the person with that offense is unknown to the prosecuting authority and could not have been discovered by that authority by exercise of due diligence[.]

Sloan last molested M.A. in 1991. M.A. did not disclose the molestations to authorities until 2008. Sixteen years after the last occurrence of molestation, prosecution commenced.

Sloan contends that under Indiana Code section 35–41–4–2(a)(1) the statute of limitations has run for his Class C felony child-molesting charge, and thus the trial court should have dismissed that charge. The State does not dispute that prosecution commenced more than five years after the last act of molestation. But the State argues that the concealment-tolling provision found in Indiana Code section 35–41–4–2(h)(2) permitted the delayed prosecution. The State explains that because the defendant had taken affirmative acts to conceal the abuse—namely, telling M.A. she would go to jail if she disclosed the molestations—the statute of limitations was tolled until M.A. disclosed the abuse to the authorities in 2008. Sloan concedes that he committed affirmative acts of concealment through his intimidation of M.A.6 but argues that the concealment, and tolling, ended in 1991 when his “coercive influence” over M.A. ceased. Sloan asserts that because prosecution commenced sixteen years after that point, it was well beyond the applicable five-year limitation period.

Resolution of this issue turns on the interpretation of Indiana Code section 35–41–4–2(h)(2): once concealment is established, when does tolling end?

This Court interpreted Indiana Code section 35–41–4–2(h)(2) in Crider v. State, 531 N.E.2d 1151 (Ind.1988), also a child-molest case. In Crider, the defendant was convicted of a number of crimes, including child molesting, which were subject to a five-year statute-of-limitations period. Id. at 1153–54. The defendant had filed a motion to dismiss the counts, arguing that the charges were brought after the applicable statute-of-limitations period and that the prosecutor failed to produce evidence that the alleged crimes were committed within that period. Id. at 1154. The trial court denied the motion. This Court affirmed, finding that the concealment-tolling provision of Indiana Code section 35–41–4–2(h)(2) applied. Because the defendant had committed positive acts of intimidation that amounted to concealment against his victim-daughter, “the statute of limitations did not run until the victim made her disclosure to authorities.” Crider, 531 N.E.2d at 1154.

In determining when the tolling ended in Sloan's case, the Court of Appeals did not find Crider “determinative” and decided that “wholesale application of Crider's ‘disclosure to authorities' language” would be inappropriate. Sloan, 926 N.E.2d at 1099. The Court of Appeals explained that multiple Court of Appeals decisions after Crider suggest that the proper inquiry to determine when tolling ends under the concealment statute is not when the victim disclosed the crime to authorities but when the defendant's acts of concealment terminated.7 Id. at 1099–1101. The Court of Appeals also noted that Crider lacked some factual details, such as whether the defendant's threats continued after the last incident of molestation. Id. at 1099. The Court of Appeals finally noted that to hold that tolling continues until the victim discloses the crime to authorities—without regard to when the acts of concealment terminated—would contravene the statute's intended purpose. Id. at 1101. Engaging in a fact-specific inquiry, the Court of Appeals determined that under Indiana Code section 35–41–4–2(h)(2) concealment ended in 1991 when the molestations ceased and Sloan and M.A. had less contact with each other. Id. at 1101–02. This is a prudent approach to the issue....

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