Justices take case challenging domestic battery conviction

September 1, 2015

A man’s convictions of Level 6 domestic battery and battery for his violent acts during a family reunion at a bowling alley will get a second look from the Indiana Supreme Court.

Justices granted transfer in Leonard L. Suggs v. State of Indiana, 02A03-1412-CR-440, in which the Court of Appeals affirmed Suggs’ conviction with an admittedly attenuated analysis of what constitutes a familial relationship under I.C. 35-31.5-2-128.

Suggs was convicted of acts involving his live-in girlfriend, Evelyn Garrett, and Vera Warren, whom he had grown up calling “auntie,” and whose brother had been married to Suggs’ aunt. Suggs threw a beer can at Garrett, then a bowling ball that missed her but struck Warren in the head. He then dragged Garrett by her hair down the steps of a Fort Wayne bowling alley – events that were witnessed by about 20 children.

Suggs argued the state didn’t prove Garrett lived with him as a spouse or that Warren was related to him – aggravating factors raising his crimes to felonies.

Judge John Baker in affirming the decision wrote for the appeals panel, “While we acknowledge that this is an attenuated familial relationship, in looking at the many broad factors set forth by the legislature in defining ‘family or household member,’ it is apparent that the legislature intended this to be a far-reaching term. … It is reasonable that the jury would have inferred that Warren is a family or household member of Suggs, especially since he grew up calling her ‘auntie.’”

The case is one of two appeals justices took for the week ending Aug. 28. The court also granted transfer and decided SCI Propane, LLC; South Central Indiana Rural Electric Membership Corp.; Rush Shelby Energy Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc. v. Courtney Frederick, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Stephan Frederick, Deceased, 55S04-1508-PL-501. Justices reversed a trial court ruling affirmed by the Court of Appeals, holding that attorney fees are not recoverable damages for survivors who sue under the General Wrongful Death Statute. Fees are recoverable for estates to which there are no survivors, the court determined.

Indiana Supreme Court transfer dispositions may be viewed here.


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