Indiana House Votes To Allow Citizens To Kill Cops

GOP lawmakers preach both respect for law and order and unswerving support for individual gun rights. Those two values are in direct conflict, but sometimes it takes a legislative showdown to understand exactly how contradictory a fundamentalist reading of the Second Amendment is to law enforcement.

The Indiana House of Representatives has just approved a bill, supported by the National Rifle Association, that allows homeowners to use their guns to kill police officers if the homeowner reasonably believes that the police are wrongfully entering the house. The bill, which already passed the Indiana Senate (though must be reapproved because of a House amendment), reads in relevant part:

(c) A person may use force in accordance with this section to prevent or terminate a law enforcement officer’s unlawful entry into the person’s dwelling or into the dwelling of a member of the person’s immediate family under one (1) or more of the following conditions:
(1) The person does not have actual knowledge that the officer is a law enforcement officer, and the officer:
(A) has not identified himself or herself as a law enforcement officer; or
(B) is not wearing a distinctive uniform or badge of authority.
(2) The law enforcement officer is not engaged in the execution of the law enforcement officer’s official duty.
(d) A person may use reasonable force, including physical force, against a person described in subsection (c)(1), if the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to immediately prevent or terminate the unlawful entry into the dwelling.

This bill also includes provisions that would render the use of force illegal under certain circumstances, such as “hot pursuit.” However, lawmakers have to consider what behavior they incentivize with laws about criminal procedure. For example, a person is generally not allowed to flee an arrest, even when innocent, because we want to incentivize respect for and the safety of law enforcement.┬áThe crux of this new law is that in the heat of the moment the homeowner is encouraged to forcibly resist arrest if they personally refuse to respect law enforcement — if they are wrong, that doesn’t get sorted out until after shots are fired.

This law is dangerous and unnecessary. Without this law, if law enforcement improperly enters your home, their improper actions will be punished in courts of law, both with an invalidation of the search and potentially through civil damages awarded to the homeowner. But now, Indiana Republicans want to short-circuit that by encouraging homeowners to resist arrest, forcing police to reconsider every action for fear of even more homeowner violence than they already face.

In addition to placing law enforcement at increased risk, the most likely victims of this law will be women and children. In fact, the “need” for the law arose from an Indiana Supreme Court case, that held that a man could not forcibly resist arrest when police tried to enter his home in response to a 911 call from the man’s wife reporting domestic violence. Under the statute, the owners of a crack house are unlikely to be protected by this law, but domestic abusers will likely fall in the realm of “reasonable belief.” And if you have any doubt, recognize that Indiana lawmakers passed this law for the explicit purpose of allowing domestic abusers to resist arrest.

8 comments for “Indiana House Votes To Allow Citizens To Kill Cops

  1. Guest
    March 6, 2012 at 4:09 am

    This only applies where the homeowner lacks “actual knowledge that the officer is a law enforcement officer,” so I don’t see how it could possibly apply to a uniformed officer seeking entry in response to a 911 call.

    • Joe Patrice
      March 6, 2012 at 8:54 am

      Unfortunately the case that the legislature is explicitly attempting to overturn with this law, Barnes v. Indiana (the second link), involved officers responding to a 911 call.

      • Jake-413451
        March 6, 2012 at 11:46 am

        Oh yeah, that case where the cops ILLEGALLY entered the property. The holdings are what matters:

        “We hold that there is no right to reasonably resist
        UNLAWFUL entry by police officers”

        Yes, the court held you have no right to resist UNLAWFUL entry if it is done by police officers. This of course goes against what the US Supreme Court already held “One has an undoubted right to resist an unlawful arrest, and courts will uphold the right of resistance in proper cases.”

        2 am, you awake to breaking glass, and hear a loud crash as your front door is kicked in. You grab that handgun you keep by the bed, a person runs in your room brandishing a shotgun and you shoot them.

        You broke the law.

        Doesn’t matter the cops never announced they were cops, doesn’t matter they came in the wrong house. Doesn’t matter that even if they had gone to the right house the people aren’t drug dealers. Prior to the law you have NO RIGHT to resist UNLAWFUL entry if done by a police officer as the court saw it.

        This court took what was settled law, 300 years worth of common law giving you the right to resist UNLAWFUL actions of police officers and said forget that, suck it up citizens, don’t you know the police are they for the greater good. They upheld his conviction be tossing out what was your right.

        In other words they decided the ends justified the means, but their means were to eliminate everyone’s right.

      • Guest
        March 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm

        Maybe this is intended to overrule Barnes, but according to the plain text it wouldn’t have that effect. You make an argument below that Barnes might be covered under (c)(2); I guess that’s a slightly closer question that (c)(1), but I wouldn’t personally want my defense in a murder/assault case to hang on whether the officer was engaged in the execution of his official duty by following a possible domestic abuse victim into the house. Seems likely to me that most courts would say that he was (even if the entry was “unlawful”). In any case, the rule in (c)(2) seems less likely to lead to absurd results than the presumptive opposite rule– that you can’t use force to prevent an off-duty cop from burglarizing your home.

  2. Joe Patrice
    March 6, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    I agree with protecting rights against police encroachment, but it needs to be contextualized in the terms of the policy dispute at hand. No one is saying that cops can unlawfully enter your house, merely that the appropriate recourse for unlawful entry is the courts rather than violent resistance.

    If the Indiana Supreme Court was trying to invalidate the Fourth Amendment and allow law enforcement to enter private homes without warrants or a belief that someone faced immediate harm with no recourse, I would join in fighting that encroachment.

    But that’s not the case here. It’s a matter of WHEN a wrongful entry is addressed, before or after a homeowner subjectively decides to resist arrest. The law should incentivize people to use the courts rather than their own judgment in the heat of the moment given the overall finality of bullets.

  3. Matthew
    March 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    The outcome of Barnes wouldn’t change. Barnes himself couldn’t satisfy ANY of those criteria, except maybe “unlawful entry.”

    Also, when you said “Without this law, if law enforcement improperly enters your home, their improper actions will be punished in courts of law, both with an invalidation of the search and potentially through civil damages awarded to the homeowner,” it made me laugh. I’m not suggesting that violence is an appropriate response to unlawful police conduct. But under present law neither suppression nor damages are available in the vast majority of cases in which the 4th is violated.

    • March 6, 2012 at 2:02 pm

      Whether or not Barnes would be protected by the law is not really material, but rather that Barnes would have a subjective belief that he would be protected and act accordingly to disastrous effect. I’m also not sure Barnes wouldn’t be protected by Section (c)(2) given that his wife had willingly re-entered the home with Barnes and did not invite the officers into the house. They had no warrant and reason to doubt whether or not Mary Barnes was under threat of immediate harm. This is the point of my final paragraph — responders to domestic abuse claims are the most likely to find themselves in the sort of “gray area” that the statute raises with Section (c)(2).

      While there has been tightening of Fourth Amendment protections (or more frequently, work-arounds that admit evidence for other reasons) suppression is still available in many instances (such as the recent ruling against warrantless tracking) and despite qualified immunity, damages are available for unlawful, warrantless arrests, for example in Sorrell v. McGuigan (4th Cir. 2002) or Pritchard v. Hamilton (6th Cir. 2011), both of which denied the qualified immunity for an improper arrests and searches.

      But again, it’s a question of “when.” Even though I’m sympathetic to the difficulties of the homeowner getting after-the-fact redress, the fact remains that even with this law the homeowner will eventually go to the very courts that you think bend over backward to side with the police. And then the homeowner will depend on those courts to deem that the resistance was “reasonable.” If you really think the courts are stacked against the homeowner, the difference between the two policies is that the police may well be injured or killed before that court date with this statute.

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