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Justices clarify police resistance ruling

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Emphasizing that it’s not trampling on the Fourth Amendment and allowing police to illegally enter one’s home, the Indiana Supreme Court has revisited a case it decided four months ago and reinforced its ruling that residents don’t have a common law right to resist police entering one’s home.

Adding to its earlier decision, the justices made it clear that even the state’s castle doctrine doesn’t give individuals a statutory right to defend themselves against officers entering their homes and then use that as a defense in court.

Opinions vary on whether this Sept. 20 ruling is narrower than the May 12 decision in Richard L. Barnes v. State, No. 82S05-1007-CR-343. The debate will likely continue in the state Legislature and possibly the federal courts.

In the Vanderburgh Superior case, police responded to a 911 call by an Evansville man’s wife about a domestic dispute. When they arrived, Richard Barnes was in the parking lot and the wife came outside unharmed, but both went back inside the apartment. When police tried to follow, Barnes told them they couldn’t enter, blocking them and shoving one officer against the wall, continuing to struggle with him. Barnes was subdued, charged, and ultimately found guilty of resisting police, battery on an officer, and disorderly conduct.

Barnes appealed, challenging the trial court’s refusal to give a tendered jury instruction on the common law right of a citizen to reasonably resist unlawful entry into the citizen’s home, and sufficiency of the evidence. The Court of Appeals ordered a new trial on the battery and resisting charges, noting that no exigent circumstances appeared to exist in the record that might justify the officer’s warrantless entry into the apartment.

The Supreme Court took the case and by a 3-2 vote affirmed Barnes convictions, with the majority holding that Indiana no longer recognizes a common law right to resist police and that no jury should be able to consider that jury instruction. Justices Robert Rucker and Brent Dickson dissented because they felt the ruling went too far.

That decision led to a public outcry, and an interim study subcommittee was created this summer to discuss the issues involved.

In its recent five-page decision, Justice Rucker dissented on the merits and said he would’ve allowed rehearing to explore the tension between the castle doctrine and police battery statutes, to determine whether Barnes is entitled to a jury instruction about police entry into his home.

Justice Dickson concurred in result with Chief Justice Randall Shepard and Justices Steven David and Frank Sullivan.

Writing that the holding does no more than bring Indiana common law in stride with jurisdictions that “value promoting safety in situations where police and homeowners interact,” Justice David noted that the central question in this case is whether the defendant was entitled to tell a jury that a common law right to defend one’s home against invasion was a defense against Indiana’s statute criminalizing violence against police officers. The answer: no.

He wrote the state’s castle doctrine statute is not a defense to battery or any violence against a police officer who’s acting in his or her duties.

“We also emphasize that this holding does not alter, indeed says nothing, about the statutory and constitutional boundaries of legal entry into the home or any other place,” Justice David wrote.

Justice David reiterated the courts earlier statement that the civil court process can be used as a remedy to address any concerns about police entry legality, and he pointed out that the General Assembly can create statutory defenses to offenses if it chooses.

This newest ruling doesn’t overrule the initial decision, and appellate attorneys say the two must be read together.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller reads the language to mean no one has the right to commit battery against a police officer in any situation, but that a person’s right to resist unlawful police entry remains, as does the ability to stand behind a locked door and prevent police from entering as long as physical altercation is avoided.

Not everyone agrees.

“The court seemed determined in the Sept. 20 opinion to avoid being as clear as it was in May, though it did clarify that it thinks, unlike the 80 percent of the state Senate who signed onto an amicus brief, that the castle doctrine has an implicit exception forbidding homeowners to resist police break-ins,” said Eric Rasmusen, a business economics and public policy professor at Indiana University who submitted an amicus brief in the appeal.

Evansville attorney Erin Berger said on Sept. 22 that no decision had been made about taking this case to the federal courts.•

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