COA rejects self-defense claim against battery charge

A man who punched a racer at a southern Indiana racing track cannot claim self-defense to rebut his battery charge because the facts show that the man was the initial aggressor against the racer, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Friday.

In May 2013, Melvin Wolf was at the Charlestown Speedway to watch his adult son, Patrick, compete in a midget car race. During the race, another driver, Kevin Blue, collided with Patrick, and Blue ultimately won the race.

After the race, Wolf went to the racing pits to see his son, but first encountered Blue and began calling him profane names. Wolf then punched Blue, and a scuffle ensued. Racing officials told Wolf he was suspended for three races, and another racer, Logan Arnold, followed Wolf to his vehicle, wrote down his license plate number and called the police.

A responding officer arrived at the track and saw injuries to Blue’s nose and back. Blue told the office that Wolf “got on top of him and continued to punch him until the other people standing around pulled the suspect off.” Wolf was subsequently charged with Class A misdemeanor battery.

During the ensuing bench trial, Blue again testified that Wolf had punched him in the nose, but contradicted his earlier account to police in which he said he had fallen flat on his back. For his part, Wolf asserted self-defense, claiming that he only hit Blue after he grabbed his shirt.

The Clark Circuit Court rejected Wolf’s self-defense claim and found him guilty as charged and sentenced him to six months suspended to unsupervised probation. On appeal in Melvin Wolf v. State of Indiana, 10A01-1607-CR-1560, Wolf argued that the trial court had erred in finding that his act of calling Blue names constituted provocation and that Blue’s testimony was incredibly dubious.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Wolf’s conviction in a Friday opinion, with Judge Melissa May writing for the unanimous panel that Blue’s testimony was not incredibly dubious because it was not inherently contradictory. Specifically, May said while Blue’s trial testimony varied slightly from his original statements to police, it did not change materially because Blue always maintained that Wolf approached him from behind, yelled at him, then punched him. Additionally, the judge said there was circumstantial evidence to back up Blue’s testimony.

Further, the appellate court found that because Blue’s testimony is not incredibly dubious, then Wolf’s self-defense claim cannot stand because the facts most favorable to the court’s judgment show that Blue did not touch Wolf until Wolf punched him. Thus, “Wolf’s argument that his name-calling did not constitute provocation for Blue to grab Wolf becomes moot because, seeing the facts as we must, Blue did not grab Wolf.”

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