Court rules on self-defense statute

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Indiana's highest court says the phrase "reasonably believes" in the state's self-defense statute requires a person to have subjective belief that force was necessary to prevent serious bodily injury and that actual belief was one any reasonable person would have had under the circumstances.

The Indiana Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision Wednesday afternoon in Philip Littler v. State of Indiana, No. 71S03-0704-CR-151, reversing a ruling by St. Joseph Superior Judge Roland Chamblee Jr.

The case involves a gun and knife fight between two teenage brothers in December 2004. Eighteen-year-old Neal Littler went to his grandmother's house to visit his brother, Philip, and the two got into an argument. Fighting escalated, Neal threatened Philip with a knife pulled from a kitchen drawer, and Philip eventually pulled a handgun and fatally shot Neal in the head.

He was originally charged with voluntary manslaughter and possession of a handgun, but later charges were amended to include murder. Littler claimed self-defense, but at trial the judge excluded testimony from the mother regarding Neal's prior conduct. He received a 50-year sentence for murder. The Court of Appeals affirmed in a memorandum opinion in December, and the justices granted transfer.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court noted that an abrupt movement by Neal prompted Philip to fire the handgun from about three feet away because of a thought his brother would stab him; this belief was fueled by Philips awareness of previous incidents where his brother had stabbed people and also that he was in a manic state at the time. A 14-year-old cousin also confirmed the story, the justices pointed out, and the mother's testimony should have been allowed for the same reason.

Authoring Justice Brent Dickson wrote that excluding her testimony was not a harmless error, as the state contended.

"The mother's testimony confirming Neal's numerous prior stabbings, his mental condition, and his history of violent behavior would be very probative and relevant to the jury's evaluation of the objective reasonableness of Philip's belief that he needed to use force against Neal and would also lend credibility to (his) assertions," the court wrote. "We cannot conclude that the exclusion of the mother's testimony did not affect Philip's rights. The harmless error doctrine does not apply here, and we reverse Philip's conviction."

This reversal applies to the murder conviction, and a new trial is now ordered in St. Joseph Superior Court.

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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues