Supreme Court upholds Barnes ruling

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Emphasizing that it’s not trampling on the Fourth Amendment, the Indiana Supreme Court has revisited a ruling it made four months ago and upheld its holding that residents don’t have a common law right to resist police entering a person’s home.

Adding to its earlier decision, the justices have made it clear that even the state’s castle doctrine doesn’t give individuals a right to defend themselves against officers entering their homes and then use that as a defense in court.

A five-page decision came down Tuesday morning in Richard L. Barnes v. State,  No. 82S05-1007-CR-343, with the justices granting a rehearing petition that follows the court’s May 12 ruling.

In this Vanderburgh Superior case, Richard Barnes appealed his misdemeanor convictions of battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting law enforcement, and disorderly conduct. Police responded to a 911 call by Barnes’ wife concerning domestic violence, and when they arrived the man was in the parking lot but went back inside his apartment to retrieve some personal items before leaving. When officers tried to enter, Barnes told them they couldn’t and blocked them. An officer attempted to come inside, and Barnes shoved him against the wall and a struggle ensued. He was charged and found guilty.

Barnes appealed, challenging the trial court’s refusal to give his tendered jury instruction on the right of a citizen to reasonably resist unlawful entry into the citizen’s home, and the sufficiency of the evidence. The Court of Appeals ordered a new trial on the battery and resisting charges.

Previously, the justices affirmed his convictions and voted 3-2 that Indiana no longer recognizes a common law right to resist police. Justices Robert Rucker and Brent Dickson dissented at that time because they felt the ruling went too far.

But re-examining the case and issues, the court pointed out: “The petitions for rehearing, advanced by thoughtful people, have convinced us that the appropriate course is to grant rehearing and speak further on the law of this case.”

In this new decision, Justice Rucker dissented on the merits as he had previously, while Justice Dickson concurred in result with Chief Justice Randall Shepard and Justices Steven David and Frank Sullivan.

Attorneys for both sides asked the justices to reconsider their decision, the public reacted to the ruling through an opposition rally at the Indiana Statehouse, and a legislative summer study subcommittee looked at whether lawmakers should examine that issue in the future.

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.

He wrote the state’s 2006-enacted castle doctrine statute is not a defense to battery or any violence against a police officer who’s acting in his or her duties – something that Barnes had claimed in this case.

The justices had earlier cited the civil court process as a remedy for addressing concerns about police entry and whether it was legal or not, but they found the legality of a search isn’t something that should be resolved through resistance at the scene.

“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,” he wrote. “Our earlier opinion was not intended to, and did not, change that existing law about the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, and papers against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Justice David added, “This also reflects the basis for our holding about defenses available to criminal defendants charged with violence against police officers: the ruling is statutory and not constitutional. The General Assembly can and does create statutory defenses to the offenses it criminalizes, and the crime of battery against a police officer stands on no different ground. What the statutory defense should be, if any, is in its hands.”

The prior decision affirming Barnes’ conviction stands.

In his dissent, Justice Rucker noted that he would have granted rehearing to explore whether state statute allows Barnes to have a jury instruction regarding police entry into his home. He voiced his disagreement with the majority’s resolution, pointing to tension between the castle doctrine and the criminal statute against committing battery on an officer.


  • Barnes ruling
    I can understand the legal premise the majority used; however, my concern is the law enforcement agencies attitude when kicking in the door of the wrong house, and mayhem prevails.

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