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COA: man doesn't have to testify for self-defense instruction

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for a man convicted of murder because the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on self-defense without the defendant’s testimony.

In Larry Ault v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-1008-CR-492, Larry Ault got into a heated argument with Andrew Parrish when Parrish and Donna Choate arrived at Ault’s home. The two came to confront Ault about money he owed after buying a radio from Parrish’s friend. Choate had to separate the men twice. When Parrish ripped off his coat, threw it in his truck and said he was going to beat up Ault now, Ault shot Parrish in the head and killed him.

At his trial, the trial court considered the permissibility of a self-defense jury instruction in the event that Ault didn’t testify. The trial judge concluded that the subjective standard of the self-defense argument couldn’t be satisfied without Ault testifying as to his perception of what was going on the day of the shooting. Ault then took the stand and was found guilty of murder.

Ault appealed the conclusion that prior to his testimony, the record lacked evidence of self-defense to support giving a self-defense jury instruction. At trial, Ault’s attorney asked whether the trial judge’s ruling meant that self-defense instructions were never available in cases where defendants didn’t testify, and the judge couldn’t answer that.

This issue hasn’t been precisely raised in Indiana, so the appellate judges relied on Hilbert v. Commonwealth, 162 S.W.3d 921, 924 (2005), from the Kentucky Supreme Court; and People v. Hoskins, 267 N.W.2d 417, 418 (1978), from the Michigan Supreme Court, to conclude a defendant doesn’t have to testify in order to receive a self-defense instruction as long as the defense is supported by the evidence.

In the instant case, the trial court found the fact that Parrish was on Ault’s property, he was shouting and threatening Ault with bodily injury, and had indicated he would attack Ault “now” was enough to establish the objective component of self-defense, wrote Judge Cale Bradford.

“Given the broad use in Indiana of circumstantial evidence to show an individual’s state of mind, and in light of Hilbert and Hoskins, we must conclude that these facts were similarly adequate to support a reasonable inference regarding the subjective component of self-defense, namely that Ault believed deadly force was necessary to protect himself. We therefore conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to instruct the jury on self-defense without Ault’s testimony,” he wrote.

Denying the self-defense instruction on these facts was not a harmless error, so the appellate judges ordered a new trial.

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  1. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  2. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  3. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  4. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  5. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

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