South Bend Tribune
Law enforcement officials don't dispute 19-year-old Kyle Doroszko's claim that he was being robbed at gunpoint when he opened fire himself, killing another teen, Traychon Taylor, in April 2019.
Prosecutors still charged Doroszko with murder, however, arguing he did not have the right to use force to defend himself because he was trying to sell marijuana and possibly a gun.
Now, the case is shaping up to be the latest to test the limits of an Indiana law that denies self-defense rights to someone who is committing a crime - even a low-level or nonviolent offense - at the time they use force.
But Doroszko's self-defense claim centers on an issue with broader statewide implications, and one that Indiana courts have wrestled with for many years: What types of crimes should take away a person's right to use force to protect himself?
In court filings, Doroszko notes Indiana's law is unusual because it denies self-defense to anyone committing a crime, with no exceptions, while other states with similar laws exclude only those committing a "forcible felony."
He cited an opinion in which two Indiana Supreme Court justices said a "non-violent crime with no inherently predictable violent outcome should not negate the defense of self-defense."
Doroszko also argues the "committing a crime" exception is "unconstitutionally vague" and improperly forces juries, rather than lawmakers, to make policy decisions about which crimes negate a self-defense claim.
"It is absurd to suppose," Doroszko's attorney, John Kindley said in a statement emailed to The Tribune, "that a person whose life is threatened while he or she is engaged in a non-violent activity that the government deems a crime - such as selling marijuana or prostitution - must just allow themselves to be killed, or be charged with murder if they successfully defend themselves."
In Indiana, courts have tried repeatedly to clarify the meaning of the state law. The Supreme Court has said applying the law literally would lead to absurd results - such as denying self-defense rights to a person whose handgun license expired one minute before a confrontation, or someone who hasn't paid their taxes - and leave many defendants with no defense at all.
[Joel Schumm, an appellate attorney and professor at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law,] recently made arguments before the state Supreme Court on behalf of Anthony Gammons, who was convicted of murder in Marion County in a shooting he claimed was self-defense. Prosecutors said he had no right to defend himself because he was carrying a handgun without a license.
At Gammons' trial, the court instructed the jury that a person cannot claim self-defense if committing a crime "directly and immediately related" to the confrontation. In closing arguments, the prosecutor emphasized the point, telling the jury a person "can't be doing anything illegal at the time" of the confrontation, and "self-defense doesn't apply here."
Schumm says the court's instruction to the jury and the prosecutor's remarks lowered the standard required by previous Supreme Court opinions, which held that a crime must have not only been related, but actually "caused" or "produced" the confrontation.
The court and prosecutor in Gammons' case essentially told the jury it could not even consider self-defense as an option, regardless of the evidence, Schumm told the Supreme Court in March.
Edited by Euler, 27 May 2020 - 10:22 PM.