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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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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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