By Lesley Weidenbener
The Statehouse File
INDIANAPOLIS – The General Assembly passed a bill late Friday that would give Hoosiers more authority to physically block police from entering their homes unlawfully.
The bill now moves to Gov. Mitch Daniels to be vetoed or signed into law.
Senate Bill 1 is a 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.
Supporters of the bill say that it will restore a balance of power that the state’s high court destroyed. Its author, Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, said protecting Hoosiers “is our number one duty.”
“Our government was formed because we thought it was more important to protect our citizens from our government than our government from our citizens,” Young said.
The bill will essentially expand the state’s Castle Doctrine – a law that gives homeowners the right to defend their property against invasion – to include situations involving police. But supporters said it also provides new protections for police by prohibiting individuals from using deadly force against an officer – even one who has entered a home illegally – unless they fear for their lives or others.
“Senate Bill 1 protects both sides who are innocent,” said Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo.
But critics say that while the bill may offer police more protections than they had before the Supreme Court’s order, law enforcement will be in more danger than they have been since the decision. That’s because the court said individuals would essentially be required to defer to law enforcement in their homes but could later file complaints or a lawsuit challenging the police entry.
The Indiana Supreme Court’s decision came in a case called Barnes v. State, which emerged from a situation in Evansville in which police responded to a domestic disturbance call.
Police found Richard Barnes in an argument with his wife in the parking lot outside their apartment and the police attempted to follow Barnes inside their home. When Barnes resisted physically, the officers arrested him. Barnes then filed a suit, but the Indiana Supreme Court said he did not have the right to assault the officers.
The ruling noted that there are situations in which officers can enter homes without a warrant, including when police are in “hot pursuit” of a suspect or when police believe a suspect is destroying evidence. In many situations, officers might in “good faith” enter a home only to find out later that they were wrong, the court says.
“In these situations, we find it unwise to allow a homeowner to adjudge the legality of police conduct in the heat of the moment,” the court said. “As we decline to recognize a right to resist unlawful police entry into a home, we decline to recognize a right to batter a police officer as a part of that resistance.”
But the court invited lawmakers to offer more clarification of the law and the General Assembly launched a study committee last year to sort through the issues. Since then, lawmakers have been struggling to find language that lawmakers and police can agree strikes the right balance.
Critics said Friday they did not find it. “We are putting in harm’ss way many many people,” said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary. “Anyone that may be walking up on somebody’s property.”
Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said the bill goes too far and could create disputes between police and homeowners that might not end well.
“We’re going to have gun battles,” said Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. “I just hope we absolutely know what we’re doing here.”
But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Dearborn, said no one who supports the legislation is advocating for harm to police officers. He said the problem is one of perception.
“This bill is about consistency. The best way to avoid confusion is consistency,” McMillin said. “If you want to avoid a perception problem, be consistent.”
Reporter Samm Quinn contributed to this report. Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.