Supreme Court defines marriage relatives

The Indiana Supreme Court determined the sister of a man who was once married to the defendant’s aunt is not a family or household member and changed a man’s Level 6 felony charge to Class A misdemeanor battery.

Leonard L. Suggs and his girlfriend Evelyn Garrett got into an argument at a bowling alley in 2014 that turned violent. Suggs threw a beer can at Garrett that missed, then threw a bowling ball at Garrett which grazed her and hit Vera Warren on the left side of her head. Warren’s brother  had previously been married to Suggs’ aunt.

Suggs was charged with Level 6 felony domestic battery for his assault on Garrett and battery as a Level 6 felony for his assault on Warren. He was sentenced to two years for each conviction to be served consecutively. Suggs challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, in which the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Indiana Code 35-42-2-1 provides in relevant part that battery is a Level 6 felony if the offense is committed against a family or household member. Suggs said Warren was not a family member, but he does not deny the rest of the criteria in the code for felony battery.

Indiana Code 35-31.5-2-128 dictates an individual is a family or household member of another person in relevant part because the person is related by blood or adoption to the other person, or is or was related by marriage to the other person. Suggs says Warren is neither of those to him.

Justice Robert Rucker wrote the decision in the case and said, “We are not persuaded that by use of the term ‘related by marriage’ the legislature intended to include an infinite variety of relationships whose only connection is a marriage or series of marriages identified somewhere on the remote branches of a family tree.”

Rucker wrote that related by marriage is commonly referred to as affinity, the connection existing in marriage between each of the married persons and the kindred of the other. A relationship by affinity is not unlimited, he wrote, and the Legislature intended this meaning when it wrote the code.

“Suggs is the blood relative of one spouse – his mother’s sister – and Warren is the blood relative of the other spouse – her own brother,” Rucker wrote. “There is no affinity between the blood relatives of one spouse and the blood relatives of another,” he said quoting 2 Charles E. Torcia, Wharton’s Criminal Law Section 242 at 573.

The case is Leonard L. Suggs v. State of Indiana, 02S03-1508-CR-510, is remanded to reduce the conviction to a Class A misdemeanor.


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