An Indiana summer study committee met for the second time Wednesday to discuss a state Supreme Court ruling from earlier this year involving the right to resist police entry into one’s home.
The four-person Legislative Council subcommittee compromised of chair Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, and Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, listened to more than an hour’s worth of testimony on the ruling in Barnes v. State, which the Indiana Supreme Court issued on May 12.
Three justices voted to abolish residents’ long-held common law right to resist, while two dissenting justices felt the holding went too far and could be read as a free pass for police to enter homes illegally despite the Fourth Amendment. That latter train of thought is what has caused a firestorm of public opinion about the ruling, and those attending the hearing this week mostly focused their opposition to the court decision on that sentiment.
Ten residents from all corners of the state came to the Indiana Statehouse to tell lawmakers what they think, even as the Supreme Court continues weighing whether it will rehear the case.
One woman from Speedway told the panel that the Indiana Supreme Court did an “end-run” around the Legislature and that the court had stepped beyond its judicial power, while others pointed to the U.S. Constitution and the framers’ intent to give people the right to defend themselves in their own homes.
Leo Blackwell, general counsel for the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police, said the ruling will hardly lead to police indiscriminately kicking in doors across the state. He stepped around offering any suggestion about what should happen on this topic and said that is something for the courts and Legislature to deal with.
“Police should not be put in the position of deciding legality on a front door step,” he said.
Blackwell said the Indiana Supreme Court's heart was in the right place and the rationale of their decision needs to be upheld. He worries that revoking the ruling could put police officers in a “Catch-22.” Without the protection provided by the Indiana Supreme Court, officers face violence when entering a home because of a safety risk or emergency situation. But if officers opt not to go in, they risk criticism or litigation later if a person is injured or killed, he said.
Panel member Lawson said she’s split on the decision because of her past roles as both a longtime police officer and also a domestic violence advocate. She largely defended police and pointed out that they do not want to enter someone’s home and that they try to avoid these situations if at all possible. But domestic violence calls, like the one police responded to in the Barnes case out Vanderburgh County, are some of the toughest for police to handle and they need the ability to protect those who are inside. She said 911 calls often provide police with enough probable cause to enter a home because someone phoning dispatch is reporting an emergency and the police are responding to that call.
Lanane, who is also an attorney, wondered whether it’s a deterrent that the federal courts allow for actions against police officers who enter a home illegally in a situation that doesn’t warrant that type of entry. He also wondered how a person is supposed to handle situations of police imposters – do nothing or try to defend if something seems suspicious.
Lanane also wondered if state statute that in 2005 adopted the “castle-doctrine” applied to police officers or if they were exempt. That law was not addressed in the Supreme Court’s decision and although nothing in the law distinguishes police, Lanane wondered if it might be worth noting that police are not exempted. Panel members also suggested eliminating no-knock, no-announce searches in Indiana, something that wasn’t a specific issue in this case but has also been the subject of criticism following a separate Supreme Court ruling from earlier this year.
“We have to be very careful how we proceed,” Lanane said, expressing his concern about implying that it’s OK for residents to forcefully resist officers who come to their door. “These are life-and-death issues.”
At the end of the hearing, Steele said he doesn’t know where the discussion will lead or if the study committee will even make a recommendation to the full Legislature.
What happens on this may be dictated by what the Supreme Court decides to do about a rehearing petition currently pending on the Barnes case. The Evansville attorney representing Barnes and the Indiana Attorney General have both requested rehearing, and the court could make any number of choices in handling that – denying the petition with or without comment, granting it and holding new arguments for a later ruling, or issuing a clarification or new ruling that affirms or reverses its past decision fully or in part.
The legislative subcommittee plans to meet again, but the next meeting has not yet been scheduled.