Indiana law, Castle Doctrine, and common sense
Last spring, Indiana passed a new law (Senate Enrolled Act 1) that breaks new ground for the Castle Doctrine. When Governor Mitch Daniels signed this new Indiana law, not many people heard about it. They are hearing about it now. The new Indiana law gives ordinary citizens a right they never had before. Now a person may shoot a police officer who exceeds his authority. An excitable police union steward fears that Hoosiers will declare open season on the police. A little common sense, and plain reading of the Indiana law, shows that this should not happen.
What the Indiana law says
Before Act 1, Indiana already had the “Castle Doctrine” as part of its criminal laws. That Doctrine says that any person under a deadly attack may counterattack, even with deadly force, inside his home. In some States, a person’s “castle” includes his workplace or his car. Indiana law, since 2006, goes further: a person under deadly attack anywhere he goes may counterattack with deadly force if he has to, to save his own life or the life of a third person. A person can also resist with deadly force any attack on his house, the land around it, or his car (while he is in it).
Act 1 goes further still. Before it, “public servants” could attack people with impunity. A judge actually said so in a memorable case (Barnes v. Indiana, cause #82002-0808-CM-759, Indiana Supreme Court). Richard Barnes was beating his wife, or so the police believed. They barged in. At trial, he argued that the police had no right to barge in. The Indiana Supreme Court eventually said that a civilian had
no right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers.
Several Indiana senators took exception to that in a friend-of-the-court brief. They wanted the Court to re-hear the case. The court said no. Hence Act 1.
Now, any public servant who is not merely “doing his duty,” or who exceeds his lawful duty and authority, may face the same kind of deadly counterattack that any ordinary burglar, robber, or assailant would. That includes a police officer kicking in a door (or shooting out a lock) and barging in, guns drawn or blazing, without a warrant. But this would not apply to someone:
- Doing something criminal,
- Running away after having done something criminal,
- Forcing the officer to defend himself, or
- Who knows, or should know, that the officer has a warrant and is doing no more than his sworn duty.
What the Indiana law does not say
The new Indiana law does not make open season on police officers. Sadly, many police officers don’t understand or won’t admit this. Sergeant Joe Hubbard of the police in Jeffersonville, IN, says,
If I pull over a car and I walk up to it and the guy shoots me, he’s going to say, “Well, he was trying to illegally enter my property.” Somebody is going get away with killing a cop because of this law.
No, Sergeant Hubbard. If you read the law more carefully, you’ll note that before that driver can shoot you, he must reasonably believe that you are doing more than giving him a speeding ticket.
In fact, cops can, and often do, attack people who haven’t provoked them. In one Ohio case last year, a cop threatened to kill someone at a traffic stop. That someone had a permit to carry a concealed gun. Anyone carrying a concealed weapon in Ohio must tell any officer who stops them that he has one. This person tried to tell the cop about his gun, but the cop interrupted him and would not let him talk.
F___ing talking to me with a G_dd___d gun! You want me to pull mine and stick it to your head? … I tell you what I should have done. As soon as I saw your gun I should have taken two steps back, pulled my Glock 40 and put ten bullets in your ___ and let you drop. And I wouldn’t have lost any sleep!
Even worse was the rumor that someone pretending to be a cop was stopping people on the highway, robbing them, and killing them. Now, under Act 1, anyone facing that kind of attack, or tirade, could protect himself, or someone else.
Common sense rules
A little common sense will remind everyone that:
- Cops are people, too, and are not perfect.
- Cops do bad things sometimes.
More than that, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects people, as well as their property, from “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Note that the law still does not protect anyone doing something criminal, or trying to run away from that. And any court will know the kind of exigent circumstances will let an officer break into a home anyway. If someone inside is screaming for help, anyone outside can figure out that maybe someone is hurting or trying to kill that person (or someone else). The new Indiana law will not stop an officer from breaking in to offer that kind of help. But it will let a homeowner defend himself against a SWAT team breaking into the wrong house. That happens, too, and sometimes innocent people die that way.
The new Indiana law does nothing more than say that “public servants” have to obey the law, too. If they break it, someone who isn’t a public servant can still defend himself.
A law like this is only the first step. The next step is to ask whether our police already act too much like soldiers in battle. Some argue that a free people shouldn’t even have “police” as we know them today. Others say that police officers have started acting too much like soldiers recently. One thing a free person can’t argue with: when the police forget that they are part of the community, they’ll start acting like an occupying army. The new Indiana law will check this. Other States should copy that law.
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