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Barnes panel OKs proposed law changes

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A legislative study committee has approved proposed changes to state law that it hopes the Indiana General Assembly will consider in response to a state Supreme Court decision earlier this year.

On Thursday, the committee studying the justices’ controversial Barnes v. State decisions passed language that would clarify state statute involving when residents have the right to reasonably resist police who are entering their homes.

As currently written, the committee’s draft legislation permits a homeowner to use reasonable force in resisting a police officer’s unlawful entry into a residence if that homeowner does not have actual knowledge that the officer is an officer or if that officer isn’t engaged in official duty. The legislation notes that even then, violent force should be used to prevent unlawful entry only if there is no other adequate alternative.

The draft legislation does not allow homeowners to resist if a police officer enters in cases of hot pursuit; if that officer has a warrant, suspects domestic violence or has reasonable belief that someone inside the house is at risk of physical harm; if at least one resident invites an officer inside and there’s no other objection from any adults inside; and pursuit of a criminal committing or escaping after the commission of a crime.

“Our draft legislation allows statutory defense for homeowners in specific situations of unlawful home entry by law enforcement,” said Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, the lawyer-lawmaker who chaired the four-person panel established in June. “It was this panel’s goal to make a suggestion that would protect both homeowners and police officers, reducing the potential for violence and respecting the private property of citizens.”

The Supreme Court in May issued a ruling that said Indiana residents have no common law right to resist police entering their homes. The Vanderburgh County case involved Richard Barnes, who’d been convicted of resisting police and battery on an officer that stemmed from a 911 call about possible domestic violence. Barnes didn’t want police entering his home after they arrived on the scene and he resisted when they tried to enter. The justices determined Barnes had no common law right to commit battery or resist. In September, they issued a second ruling that clarified their holding to mean that even Indiana’s castle doctrine allowing homeowners the right to protect their residences doesn’t offer a defense to resistance or battery on an officer.

The three committee members present at Thursday’s meeting supported the proposed changes – Steele, Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, and Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond. Member Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, wasn’t at the meeting. Those attending said these changes are a work in progress and that more revisions could be made during the regular session that starts in January.

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