CNHI Statehouse Bureau
Police and prosecutors fear a legislative response to a controversial court decision on resisting law enforcement will end up endangering officers and crime victims.
Their concern is prompted by an Indiana Senate bill, now being considered in the House, that says a person can use “deadly force” against a police officer if that person “reasonably believes” that force is necessary to keep the officer from acting illegally.
Proponents of the bill argue it simply clarifies Indiana’s “castle doctrine” law that allows people to use force to protect their homes from illegal entry.
Opponents of the law worry it will endanger officers who have to make snap decisions in volatile situations.
“We believe people have the right to be secure in their homes,” said Hendricks County Sheriff Dave Galloway. “But the people who hear about this law are going to think it’s OK to kill a law enforcement officer. What you and I think is ‘reasonable’ isn’t the same as somebody high on meth. They’re going to shoot first and ask questions later.”
Galloway was among a long line of law enforcement officers and prosecutors who spoke against the legislation before a House committee that approved the bill Wednesday.
Also opposing the legislation are advocates for domestic violence victims, who fear the language of the bill will have a chilling effect on officers responding to domestic violence calls.
Prompting the legislation was an Indiana Supreme Court decision issued last year that said an Evansville man didn’t have the right to resist a police officer who’d responded to a 911 domestic violence call.
The ruling, in what’s known as the Barnes case, also said Indiana residents didn’t have the right to resist an unlawful police entry, and that allowing such resistance unnecessarily escalates the potential for violence and the risk of injuries to all parties involved. The court said persons who believed their rights had been violated by an unlawful police entry could later seek a remedy in the courts.
That decision provoked a public protest, and a flurry of calls and emails to legislators from people who saw the ruling as an assault on the constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure.
Legislators have been wrangling over how to respond. The Senate passed a bill that spelled out circumstances in which police officers can enter a home without the resident having the right to resist.
The House version of the bill alters some of that language, while still giving residents limited rights to resist police officers with “reasonable force.” It also says a person is justified in using deadly force if that person believes a law enforcement officer is acting unlawfully.
It’s that phrase, “if the person reasonably believes the force is necessary” that alarms bill opponents.
“That makes everybody a lawyer,” said Terre Haute Police Chief John Plasse. “It’s going to cause more altercations with police. We hear it from people all the time, who say, ‘You don’t have a warrant you can’t be here.’ Saying they have a right to use deadly force to resist isn’t the way to handle this.”
Plasse’s department is particularly sensitive to the issue: one of his officers, Brent Long, was shot and killed last July while trying to serve an arrest warrant.
Backers of the bill insist that opponents have it wrong. Sen. Mike Young, a Republican from Indianapolis, and Rep. Jud McMillin, a Republican from Dearborn, both told House committee members that the bill was designed to protect police by spelling out when people could exercise their right to resist law enforcement.
After hearing nearly two hours of testimony against the bill, McMillin agreed to try to rework the bill’s language so that it would less objectionable to its critics. McMillin said he’ll try to amend the bill when it goes to the full House for a vote.
Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.