Over the last past twenty years or so, states have been strengthening the “Castle Doctrine” affording homeowners’ greater protection when they use deadly force against invaders.
It is common sense that when one is in one’s home and an intruder appears one can resort to deadly force to protect oneself without fear of legal repercussions. However, even this common sense approach can go a bit too far; and that is what is occurring in the state of Indiana right now.
In response to the Indiana State Supreme Court’s decision of Richard L. Barnes v. State, in which the Court disallowed a castle doctrine defense for a homeowner who forcibly attempted to bar police entry into his home, the state legislature has passed a statute that would overturn this decision (Homeowner Protection bill).
Barnes involved the police responding to a domestic dispute between a husband & wife. When the police arrived, both parties were observed outside of the residence, apparently unharmed. When the couple entered their home, the police attempted to follow them in. The husband, Richard Barnes, refused the police entry. The situation escalated and became physical. Mr. Barnes was ultimately arrested for battery of a police officer and he was convicted of this charge in a court of law.
His argument upon appeal was that the police entry into his home was unlawful and that the jury should have been allowed to consider a castle doctrine defense as to the unlawfulness of the police conduct. The Indiana Supreme Court disagreed with Mr. Barnes’ contention and affirmed his conviction. With this bill pending before the Governor, he needs to veto it.
Although not as old as the “Castle Doctrine”, there is general principle of law that one may not resist a police officer. Any issues surrounding the appropriateness of the officer’s conduct can be reviewed later. There is a general consensus that to allow otherwise would breed contempt for the rule of law and lead to unnecessary violence.
There is also a practical consideration in not allowing a castle doctrine defense in police-homeowner confrontations. The law as to when the police may enter a home (either with or without a warrant) is very complex. For an ordinary person to understand what police conduct is lawful and what is not is mostly beyond their knowledge. There are nuances to the law. A person may believe that the officer’s conduct is unlawful, when in fact it is perfectly acceptable. I did twenty years in the NYPD, the public perception of police work is woefully misguided, too much education by television. And these perceptions will carry over into real life, with real consequences.
In wading into this controversy, the Indiana state legislature is treading on dangerous ground. At first blush it seems to afford homeowners more protection, but in reality it does not as assumptions of what is lawful or not will lead to confrontations. At a minimum, these confrontations will lead to more homeowners being arrested and with confrontations always comes the risk of injury or worse.
Far from helping, the Indiana legislative bill muddies the waters and without a clear picture, lives will invariably be damaged. It is best to leave these situations to the courts to handle after the fact – when emotions have cooled.