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Editorial: Threats are inappropriate way to voice an opinion

May 25, 2011

Unless you’ve been under a rock of late, you know that the Indiana Supreme Court decided Richard L. Barnes v. State on May 12.

In that case, Barnes appealed his misdemeanor convictions of battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting law enforcement, and disorderly conduct. Police were responding to a domestic violence call from Barnes’ wife; he was leaving the apartment they shared and was in the parking lot when police arrived. He went back to the apartment to get more of his belongings, and when police tried to enter the apartment, Barnes blocked their way. When an officer further attempted to enter the apartment, Barnes shoved the officer against a wall and a struggle ensued between the two.

Barnes’ counsel wanted to offer a jury instruction at trial on the right of a citizen to reasonably resist unlawful entry into the citizen’s home, but the trial court refused. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, and said the missing jury instruction was not harmless error.

Writing for the 3-2 majority, Justice Steven David wrote that the right to resist an unlawful police entry into a home is against public policy and incompatible with modern Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

“Nowadays, an aggrieved arrestee has means unavailable at common law for redress against unlawful police action,” wrote Justice David, citing bail and the exclusionary rule as examples. “We also find that allowing resistance unnecessarily escalates the level of violence and therefore the risk of injuries to all parties involved without preventing the arrest — as evident by the facts of this instant case.” Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justice Frank Sullivan voted with Justice David.

Much has been said and will doubtless continue to be said about this ruling. Media outlets one typically doesn’t associate with relevant discourse on such weighty matters have been heard discussing the ruling. That’s a great thing – everyone should know and talk about the decisions of our judicial system that directly impact our lives.

What we want to address here is the troubling descent into madness that has appeared alongside the reasonable discourse on the subject. Some of the discourse quickly reached the point where police were called to investigate threats, veiled and otherwise. The troubling comments come from a few people who purport to defend their own liberties and their interpretations of the Constitution at the expense of the safety of us all.

We fully support the right of people to express their opinions in support of and in opposition to the ruling. We’re staunch supporters of the First Amendment.

But instead of calling our justices names and questioning their political loyalties, advocating the purchase of large amounts of ammunition and threatening to shoot any police officer who dares to darken a doorstep, we wish those who would advocate against the ruling would take a lesson or two from our two justices who each wrote in dissent of the decision: Justices Robert Rucker and Brent Dickson, as well as the Indiana State Bar Association that responded to reaction.

Justice Dickson wrote that he would have preferred a more narrow approach. “… a more cautious revision of the common law would have, in cases not involving domestic violence, left in place the historic right of people to reasonably resist unlawful police entry in their dwellings,” he wrote.

Justice Rucker wrote that the majority’s ruling was far too broad. “There is simply no reason to abrogate the common law right of a citizen to resist the unlawful police entry into his or her home,” he wrote.

Both are forceful in their arguments, as well as eloquent and persuasive. And both are pitch-perfect examples of how to make an argument without resorting to threats. The ISBA is also encouraging all criticism and discourse to be made in a respectful manner, excluding personal and inflammatory attacks on individual judges and law enforcement officials. We wish some of the people who are arguing against this ruling would take them for an example to follow.•

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