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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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