COA affirms juvenile’s reckless homicide, gun possession convictions

The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a LaPorte County juvenile’s sentence and conviction after he admitted to accidentally shooting and killing a friend.

While Javan Brown was in juvenile detention, his older brother was shot and killed in December 2018. Brown, who illegally purchased a handgun upon release the following month, shot the gun four times on his brother’s birthday in his honor.

However, Brown had the gun with him while he was a passenger in a vehicle with two friends. As they three waited for a fourth friend to join them in the car, Brown, who was sitting behind the driver’s seat, pulled the gun out of the back driver’s seat pocket and pulled the trigger.

The bullet entered the bottom portion of the driver’s seat headrest and hit Justin Garner in the head, killing him. Brown was subsequently charged with murder, and a charge of Class A misdemeanor dangerous possession of a firearm was later added. At jury trial, Brown testified and admitted to accidentally shooting Garner and the jury found him guilty of Level 5 felony reckless homicide and Class A misdemeanor dangerous possession of a firearm.

Brown, who was 16 at the time of the shooting, was sentenced to 5½ years for the reckless homicide conviction and one year for the dangerous possession of a firearm conviction for an aggregate 6½ years.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed on appeal, first finding the trial court did not err in failing to allow his mother to remain in the courtroom during trial. It concluded that Brown invited the alleged error by affirmatively requesting the separation of witnesses order that he now contests.

“Moreover, even if Brown did not invite the error, he waived any alleged error by failing to object,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the appellate court. “On appeal, Brown makes no argument that fundamental error occurred. Accordingly, Brown’s argument that the trial court erred by excluding his mother from the courtroom fails.”

Additionally, the appellate court found that the trial court did not err by allowing the jury to pull the trigger on the firearm during deliberations. It concluded that allowing the jurors to pull the trigger during deliberations under such circumstances would not amount to an experiment that introduced evidence supplementary to that introduced during the trial.

There was sufficient evidence to sustain Brown’s conviction for reckless homicide, the appellate court continued, and neither of his convictions resulted in a violation against the prohibition against double jeopardy.

“The State used different, unrelated facts to support each of the charges. The dangerous possession of a firearm charge was supported by facts related to Brown’s actions with the firearm before the shooting of Garner. Reckless homicide was supported by Brown pulling the trigger of the firearm in Garner’s vehicle, killing Garner. Brown’s actions were not ‘so compressed in terms of time, place, singleness of purpose, and continuity of action as to constitute a single transaction.’ Accordingly, Brown’s convictions did not violate the prohibition against double jeopardy,” it wrote.

Regarding his sentence, the appellate court found no abuse of the trial court’s discretion in sentencing Brown and did not find his aggregate sentence to be inappropriate in the case of Javan D. Brown v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-125

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