COA: Admission of parole violation harmless error

A Delaware County man had his murder conviction affirmed after the Court of Appeals of Indiana found the trial court’s admission of a parole violation during trial was an abuse of discretion but a harmless error.

Brady Turner was charged with murder in the death of Chris Burgess. During his four-day trial in which he claimed self-defense, Turner objected to the testimony of his parole officer who filed a parole violation and requested a warrant for Turner’s arrest.

Turner was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 60 years.

On appeal, Turner argued whether his presence in Muncie was a violation of his parole is irrelevant as to whether he had a right to be there for purposes of his self-defense claim. He cited Indiana Code Section 35-42-3-2(a) which provides, in part, “it is the policy of this state that people have a right to defend themselves and third parties from physical harm and crime….”

The Court of Appeals relied on Mayes v. State, 744 N.E.2d 390, 393 (Ind. 2001) and Gammons v. State, 148 N.E.3d 301, 304-05 (Ind. 2020). Even though the rulings dealt with a statutory limitation, the panel found the grounds for supporting these decisions were relevant to tackling Turner’s parole question.

The appellate court concluded when a person is not in a place where he or she has a right to be, a self-defense claim is barred only if there is an immediate causal connection between the person’s presence in the place and the confrontation.

Next the panel examined Turner’s parole violation in the context of the incident and found the trial court abused its discretion in determining the defendant’s parole status was relevant to his self-defense claim.

Although Turner was outside of Madison County, there is no evidence he violated his parole so either he could confront the victim or by confronting the victim. And, in fact, the panel noted, there is no evidence Turner was attempting to or intended to see Burgess.

Still, the Court of Appeals found the error to be harmless.

“Turner testified that Burgess did not have a weapon on the night he was killed, and Turner admitted that Burgess did not threaten to use a weapon during the fight,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the court. “According to Turner’s own testimony, Burgess hit Turner at most a single time, and Turner suffered no injuries. Turner also testified that he thought he was a better fighter than Burgess.

“This evidence disproved beyond a reasonable double that turner had a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm,” Crone continued. “Further, the evidence overwhelming showed that Turner used more force than was reasonably necessary under the circumstances. … Given the overwhelming evidence disproving Turner’s self-defense claim, the probable impact of Turner’s parole status was minimal and did not affect is substantial rights.”

The case is Brady A. Turner v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-1359.

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