By Samm Quinn
The Statehouse File
INDIANAPOLIS – Gov Mitch Daniels signed a bill into law Tuesday that gives Hoosiers the right to use force against police officers who are entering their homes unlawfully.
Senate Enrolled Act 1 is state lawmakers’ reaction to a controversial decision last year by the Indiana Supreme Court that stripped Hoosiers of what had been seen as a common-law right to resist anyone – including law enforcement – trying to enter their homes illegally.
The House approved the bill 67-26 and the Senate passed it 38-12, and originally Daniels had said he wasn’t sure whether he would sign the bill or veto it. He called it “a close call” on Monday.
In a statement, he said Wednesday that he decided to sign the bill after hearing from advocates and opponents. Daniels said the law makes clear that only in narrow circumstances – when police are breaking the law and when they threaten serious bodily injury to a citizen – can that person try to use deadly force.
He said in the real world, there will almost never be a situation where “these extremely narrow conditions are met.”
Opponents, however, say they fear the new law’s existence will provide less protection to both law enforcement officers and Hoosiers, and Daniels said that may be because Hoosiers will misunderstand the law.
“What is troubling to law enforcement officers, and to me, is the chance that citizens hearing reports of change will misunderstand what the law says,” he said.
Strong opposition to the law came from the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police. Its president, Tim Downs, sent Daniels a letter warning of the law’s potential consequences, calling it a “recipe for disaster.”
He said the measure allows “untrained citizens to subjectively judge the circumstances” and decide for themselves whether they consider an officer’s attempt to enter their homes lawful or not – decisions made in tense moments that potentially involve drugs or alcohol.
“It will lead to victims waiting for help to arrive, police officers being forcibly denied entry and needless altercations between police and citizens. It will lead to senseless loss of life to police and citizens alike,” he wrote.
Daniels warned Hoosiers that the new law specifically restricts when an individual can use force and when he or she may not and if they break the law, they’ll be in more trouble.
“This law is not an invitation to use violence or force against law enforcement officers. In fact, it restricts when an individual can use force, specifically deadly force, on an officer, so don’t try anything,” he said. “Chances are overwhelming you will be breaking the law and wind up in far worse trouble as a result.”
He also encouraged Hoosiers to cooperate with law enforcement in every possible way.
“Indiana’s outstanding law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to protect all Hoosiers. The right thing to do is cooperate with them in every way possible,” he said.
The bill was the last piece of legislation from 2012 Daniels had to act on.
Samm Quinn is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.