Chapman v. State

Decision Date11 October 1984
Docket NumberNo. 4-684A156,4-684A156
Citation469 N.E.2d 50
PartiesCharles CHAPMAN, Appellant (Defendant Below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff Below).
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Jack E. Roebel, Allen County Deputy Public Defender, Fort Wayne, for appellant.

Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen., Michael Gene Worden, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellee.

MILLER, Presiding Judge.

The defendant, Charles Chapman, appeals his conviction in a jury trial for battery, a Class C felony under IND.CODE 35-42-2-1(3) (1982). Defendant admitted to cutting the victim, Preston "Pete" Pearson, with a knife, but claimed Pearson was the aggressor and the cutting was an act of self-defense. The only issue raised on this appeal is whether the trial court erred in excluding evidence offered by defendant of prior specific acts of violence committed by Pearson. In his offers of proof, defense counsel insisted the excluded evidence was offered solely for the purpose of corroborating previously admitted evidence that Pearson was the aggressor in the encounter that led to his serious injuries. We hold that the trial court was within its discretion in excluding this evidence, and, therefore, we affirm.


At about 7:00 P.M. on July 1, 1983, Pearson was drinking a beer on the porch of a house occupied by a woman identified only as Big Mama. Her porch apparently was a meeting place for a number of locals to talk, drink, and play cards. Several people were present when defendant walked up to the porch and either demanded or asked that Pearson give him a beer, which Pearson declined to do. It is undisputed that defendant and Pearson did not know each other prior to this meeting. An initial argument arose between the two, which was broken up by those present when Big Mama declared there would be no fighting on her porch. Defendant and Pearson encountered one another again, several minutes later, while Pearson was in or near a friend's car, parked across the street from Big Mama's. Defendant approached Pearson, either to repeat his demand for a beer or to apologize for the earlier dispute. During this second encounter, defendant cut Pearson across the neck and arm with a Barlow knife. Pearson's friend drove him to the hospital, where approximately ninety stitches were required to close the wounds.

While the testimony of the two state's witnesses and the several defense witnesses contrast rather sharply regarding the events leading up to the battery, we note that before attempting to introduce the evidence defendant alleges was erroneously excluded, he presented appreciable evidence in support of his claim of self-defense. Although Pearson and the second state's witness both testified Pearson was unarmed at the time defendant cut him and made no aggressive moves toward defendant to justify the contention that Pearson was the aggressor (indeed, both testified Pearson was sitting inside the car at the time he was cut), three of the defense witnesses, defendant included, testified they saw Pearson pull a utility knife on defendant during the initial argument on Big Mama's porch. Defendant also testified that during the second encounter, Pearson forced defendant to defend himself by lunging at defendant with such a knife, which testimony was corroborated by another defense witness.

After presenting this evidence, defendant called three witnesses whose testimony was intended to corroborate defendant's earlier evidence that Pearson had been the aggressor. Betty Farris, a former girlfriend of Pearson's, testified Pearson had beaten her at least three times during the course of their relationship, and she had seen him threaten a neighbor boy with a club. She also gave her opinion that Pearson had a violent character when intoxicated, and she had seen him quite intoxicated about two hours before the events at Big Mama's house. Duane Garrett, Betty Farris's son, said he saw Pearson beat his mother four or five times and opined that Pearson was a very violent person when intoxicated. However, the trial court sustained the state's objection to defense counsel's questions concerning a "typical" beating and the last beating Garrett had seen Pearson administer to Betty Farris. Finally, the defense called Pearson himself as a witness. Pearson admitted beating Betty Farris two or three times; he admitted beating another former girlfriend with a broom handle; he admitted having approximately five convictions for battery; but when defense counsel asked questions intended to elicit testimony from Pearson concerning two separate and unrelated acts of violence that were not reduced to convictions, 1 the state objected and was sustained by the trial court each time. Defense counsel preserved appeal on the excluded testimony with proper offers of proof, stating the evidence would corroborate earlier testimony that Pearson had been the aggressor in the second encounter with defendant. On appeal, defendant alleges the trial court erroneously excluded Garrett's and Pearson's proffered testimony concerning acts of violence committed by Pearson. We disagree, and, therefore, we affirm.


As a general rule, of course, evidence of a person's character, however adduced, is not admissible to prove that person acted in a manner consistent with that character on a particular occasion. McCORMICK, HANDBOOK OF THE LAW OF EVIDENCE Sec. 188 (2d ed. 1972). Indiana cases, however, recognize an exception to this general rule in homicide and battery cases where the defendant raises the issue of self-defense. 2 See Teague v. State, (1978) 269 Ind. 103, 116-16, 379 N.E.2d 418, 424 (homicide); Bates v. State, (1971) 256 Ind. 490, 492-93, 269 N.E.2d 749, 750 (assault and battery). There are, however, two crucial distinctions to be made in such cases where the defendant attempts to introduce evidence of the victim's violent character in support of his claim of self-defense.

First, one must distinguish between the two purposes for which evidence of the violent character of the victim may be introduced. One purpose is to show that at the time he acted, the defendant had a reasonable fear of the victim, and, thus, reasonably believed in the necessity of defending himself. The second purpose is to show that, more probably than not, the victim was the initial aggressor in his encounter with the defendant, placing the defendant in the position of having to defend himself.

The second crucial distinction required in self-defense cases involves the types of proof by which the victim's violent character may be evidenced.

"These types are (a) testimony as to the conduct of the person in question as reflecting his character, and (b) testimony of a witness as to his opinion of the person's character based on observation, and (c) testimony as to his reputation. These are listed in the order of their pungency and persuasiveness. In the same order, they differ in their tendency to arouse undue prejudice, to confuse and distract, to engender time-consuming side issues and to create a risk of unfair surprise. Modern common law doctrine makes the neutral and unexciting reputation evidence the preferred type, which will usually be accepted where character evidence can come in at all, whereas the other two, when they are received at all, are received only in limited and defined situations."

McCORMICK, supra, Sec. 186 at 443 (footnotes omitted).

Putting aside, for the moment, this second distinction, we note that the State argues the trial court properly excluded the testimony in question because defendant admits he did not know of Pearson's violent propensities at the time of their encounter, and, without such knowledge, he could not use the testimony to show he was reasonably placed in fear of Pearson at the time he allegedly acted in self-defense. See McCraney v. State, (1983) Ind., 447 N.E.2d 589; French v. State, (1980) 273 Ind. 251, 403 N.E.2d 821; Schmanski v. State, (1979) 270 Ind. 331, 385 N.E.2d 1122; Bates v. State, (1971) 256 Ind. 490, 269 N.E.2d 749; McKee v. State, (1926) 198 Ind. 590, 154 N.E. 372. The State's argument embraces what appears to be a common failure to distinguish the purposes for which evidence of the violent character of the victim of a battery or homicide may be introduced. See People v. Buchanan, (1980) 91 Ill.App.3d 13, 46 Ill.Dec. 540, 414 N.E.2d 262; Annot., 1 A.L.R.3d 571, 601 (1965). The Indiana cases cited by the State do support the proposition that

"when there has been evidence introduced that the accused was exercising his right of self-defense, the decedent's reputation and character for peace and quietude, if known to the accused at the time he acted, becomes relevant upon the issue of whether or not he believed himself to be in danger and the reasonableness of his assessment. Schmanski v. State, (1979) Ind. , 385 N.E.2d 1122, 1125; McKee v. State, (1926) 198 Ind. 590, 598, 154 N.E.2d 372, 375."

French, 403 N.E.2d at 825 (emphasis added). Thus, evidence of the defendant's knowledge of the victim's character is a foundational requirement to the introduction of evidence of the violent character of the victim where the purpose of such evidence is to show the defendant's reasonable fear of the victim in support of his claim of self-defense. 3

In his offer of proof, however, defense counsel made it clear he was offering the excluded evidence of Pearson's violent acts for the sole purpose of proving to the jury that it was more probable than not that Pearson was the aggressor against defendant, supporting defendant's claim of self-defense. Indiana cases indicate that evidence of a battery victim's reputation for violence is admissible for the purpose of showing that the victim was the aggressor. In a civil battery case, Niemeyer v. McCarty, (1943) 221 Ind. 688, 51 N.E.2d 365, overruled on other grounds, our supreme court stated:

"It is settled beyond controversy that in a criminal action for homicide or assault and battery,...

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