Self Defense in Indiana

The concept of self-defense in the state of Indiana is generally seen as an act that is recognized as a valid justification for an otherwise criminal act. Meaning, that under Indiana Code 35-41-3-2(a) an individual is, “justified in using reasonable force against another person to protect himself from what he reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force.”  Historically, this notion of self-defense “is predicated upon the right of every citizen to reasonably defend himself against an unwarranted attack.” Whipple v. State, 523 N.E.2d 1363 (Ind. 1988). However, it should be noted that self-defense is a law of necessity and does not go without elemental requirements to establish a valid claim of self-defense. Without being able to prove each element, one will not be able to claim self-defense. This failure results in said action of force, deadly or not, against another person not being presumed justified but rather is deemed to be a criminal act.

In general there are three elements required in order to establish right and/usage of self-defense: “(1) was in a place where the defendant had a right to be; (2) did not provoke, instigate, or participate willingly in the violence; and (3) had a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm.” Brown v. State, 738 N.E.2d 271 (Ind. 2000). Additionally, it has been held under Indiana law that right to self-defense “arises only when the necessity begins, and equally ends with the necessity; and never must the necessity be greater than when the force employed defensively is deadly.” Whipple v. State, 523 N.E.2d 1363 (Ind. 1988). When determining whether or not there is a necessity, a dual inquiry of whether a “defendant perceived a necessity to act as he did to defend himself from an imminent threat, and whether such perceptions were objectively reasonable.” Whipple v. State, 523 N.E.2d 1363 (Ind. 1988). This notion of necessity is established by both a subjective and objective rationale for the individual to full fill the standard necessary for a claim of self-defense. Further, it has been held by the Indiana court system that there must be here a showing of imminent or impending danger. The individual who is claiming self-defense must provide “proof that danger is sufficiently imminent or impending to excuse the use of deadly force requires evidence that a defendant, based upon prior experience or abuses, reasonably perceives imminent or impending danger closer in time to the use of deadly force.” Whipple v. State, 523 N.E.2d 1363 (Ind. 1988). Thus in sum under Indiana law one must prove the following in order to have a valid claim of self-defense: (1) was in a place where the defendant had a right to be; (2) did not provoke, instigate, or participate willingly in the violence; (3) had a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm; (4) was there enough facts/evidence to prove that necessity was prevalent under the circumstances; and (5) was there proof that a danger was sufficiently imminent or impending to warrant the use of force or even deadly force under the circumstances. As mentioned above this is an elements test meaning that each element must be proven to allow a valid claim of self-defense to arise.

The legal notion of self-defense over the years has developed and/or expanded to include the application of Stand Your Ground Statutes/Castle Doctrine. In sum, Indiana Code 35-41-3-2 states that, “a person is justified in using reasonable force, including deadly force, against another person and does not have a duty to retreat…if the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent or terminate the other person’s unlawful entry of or attack on the person’s dwelling, curtilage, or occupied motor vehicle.” The key aspect of the above mention Indiana Code is that if an individual who is attacked in either their legally classified dwelling, curtilage, or occupied motor vehicle they are under no legal duty to retreat. Rather they can use any justifiable force, even deadly, to prevent or terminate the attacker’s unlawful entry or further aggressions. A recent example of how the legal concept of Stand Your Ground occurred when a manager of a Kroger grocery store in Indianapolis shot and killed an armed robber. The prosecutor decided that no charges would be filed and determined that the manager of the Kroger was legally protected under both self-defense and Stand Your Ground statutory language.

It should be noted that the concept of self-defense extends even further than criminal liability/protections. There are also issues of civil liability attached to the application of self-defense. However, Indiana has recently passed the House Enrolled Act 1284. The main focus of the House Enrolled Act 1284 is to give more immunity to people who have used justifiable force in the manner of self-defense. Before the passing of the House Enrolled Act 1284 individuals could be justified under criminal statutory standards but maintain liability under civil statutory standards. Prior to Indiana passing the House Enrolled Act 1284 individuals could be free and clear of any jail time/criminal liability but could be liable for paying the family or the individual who was impacted the application of the victim’s self-defense actions. Thus, the passing of this act now allows for protection both criminal and civil liability when using  justifiable force under the realm of self-defense.