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Lawmakers discuss scope of police entry case

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A Bedford lawyer-legislator says a recent Indiana Supreme Court decision on resisting police entry has resulted in more feedback from attorneys and residents statewide than he’s experienced since the daylight saving time debate.

That comment set the stage for the first legislative subcommittee meeting June 29 aimed at exploring the court’s split decision May 12 in Barnes v. State, No. 82S05-1007-CR-343.

The justices' 3-2 ruling went further than any before on the issue of resisting police entry into a person’s home and held that Indiana no longer recognizes a common law right to resist in any situation. That decision fueled widespread outrage and critics say it goes too far and conflicts with both the Fourth Amendment and the state’s self-defense statute.

Though both sides have filed briefs requesting and supporting a rehearing, the Legislative Council created a four-person subcommittee to study this issue more in-depth.

Sen., Brent Steele, R-Bedford, who chairs the subcommittee, said he isn’t sure if the panel should wait on discussing and deciding this issue until the Supreme Court decides whether it’ll rehear the case.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to do something legislatively,” he said at the meeting. “How often have lawyers seen the court say that the legislature didn’t address something? We run the risk of looking like we’ve abrogated our duties and that we decided not to deal with it immediately.”

Aside from Steele, Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) and Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero) were at the first meeting. Rep. Linda Lawson, (D-Hammond) did not attend. They passed out briefs filed in the case, as well as the justices’ ruling for everyone to review.

Lanane discussed his view of what the majority was saying – that any resistance can lead to an escalation of violence – and he wondered what the answer might be if any action is allowed by residents.

Lt. Mark Carnell, legal counsel for the Indiana State Police, said the ruling has had no impact on the agency's procedures and police don’t see it as giving officers any greater right to enter homes. Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, who is not a member of the subcommittee but attended the meeting to criticize the ruling, said he’d prefer police to hold off and wait when a situation is unclear.

Although the 11-page ruling states the court was deciding "the question of whether Indiana should recognize the common-law right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers," Steele and others question whether it also impacts Indiana statute delving into this issue. One statute is the 2006 “castle doctrine” that broadened state residents’ right to protect themselves from unlawful entries into their homes.

Legislative Services Agency attorney Andrew Hedges told the subcommittee members that the ruling could be interpreted to impact only common law or also the statues, but it’s not clear. He described the structure of the opinion as a possible “drafting error” because it switches from addressing the common law aspect to even broader wording about the general right to resist police entry, and that it's unclear about the scope of the ruling. Hedges said the court could have included a footnote addressing the statute, but didn’t and so court watchers are left wondering whether the justices forgot about that statutory impact or if they ignored it to only address the common law question. He questioned Justice David’s use of “in sum” when issuing the holding, and whether that means the holding is limited to common law or also abrogates any statutory right to resist.

Steele sees that as a problem that needs legislative attention.

“I see this as two trains headed toward each other on the same track that will collide someday,” he said, in reference to the Supreme Court ruling and the self-defense statute revised five years ago.

A date for the second meeting hasn’t been set, but the three members at the first meeting indicated that August might be the next time they can gather. This subcommittee’s role would simply be to recommend any legislative changes to the full General Assembly once it reconvenes for the 2011-12 session.

Meanwhile, the briefing period is finished and the Supreme Court is now deciding whether it will revisit the case. The justices have no timetable in making that decision and could hold additional arguments, request more material, or rule based on the briefs and past record in the appeal.

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