Armed robber loses appeal of denied jury instruction on duress defense

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of a man’s tendered jury instruction after finding the defense included in the proposed instruction was not available to the defendant.

In May 2016, Riley Randall, believing marijuana dealer Ron Wilkinson had cheated him in a recent transaction, went with two armed men to Wilkinson’s apartment, where they held him at gunpoint and stole a safe, a jar of coins used to purchase Randall’s marijuana and drugs. During the ordeal, Randall initially stood outside the apartment door while Wilkinson was held at gunpoint, but later entered the apartment to retrieve the safe and jar of coins.

After Wilkinson called police and identified Randall as one of his assailants, Randall told officers he had had been kidnapped and forced to participate in the robbery and urged another friend to tell a similar story against the two armed assailants. Randall was eventually charged with Level 3 felony robbery while armed with a deadly weapon.

Prior to trial, Randall tendered a proposed jury instruction on the statutory defense of duress, claiming evidence from Wilkinson’s surveillance camera would show he was an unwilling participant in the armed robbery. But the DeKalb Superior Court denied his proposed instruction and a jury found Randall guilty.

On appeal, Randall argued the trial court abused its discretion in rejecting his tendered jury instruction regarding the statutory defense of duress. Specifically, Randall asserted that because the jury was also instructed, and likely convicted him on a theory of accomplice liability, the duress defense should have been available.

The appellate court disagreed, finding that the character of an offense as one “against the person,” as defined in Indiana Code Section 35-42, “in no way depends on whether the defendant is the principal or an accomplice, or whether another inchoate basis of liability is alleged.”

“Simply stated, the offense is the offense, and the legislature has plainly provided that the duress defense is unavailable to a person, such as Randall, who is alleged to have committed an offense against the person, regardless of the basis of liability,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the court. “Therefore, duress was not available as a defense to Randall’s charge of armed robbery. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting his tendered duress instruction.”

The case is Riley M. Randall v. State of Indiana,18A-CR-1574.

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