ILNews

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. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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