Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's deputy web editor.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
It's 2 a.m. and you wake up to the sight and sound of a police officer, but you didn't call the police. Are you allowed to shoot him or her for unlawfully entering your home? If you live in Indiana, maybe.
As of March 20, Indiana law gives residents the right to resist police -- even with deadly force -- if they're acting unlawfully. "So far as we know, this is the first one [law] where … you have the right to shoot them [law enforcement] if you feel they're unlawfully entering the property," said Tim Richardson, the senior legislative liaison for the National Fraternal Order of Police.
More than half of states have so-called castle doctrine laws, which give people the right to defend themselves against intruders in their homes, but Indiana is one of few, if not the only, state where law enforcement officials aren't exempt.
The new law places the burden to decide what's legal on the people -- a task that most citizens (who lack law enforcement or legal training) aren't capable of, according to police officials.
The state and national police unions fought hard to kill the bill, but Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels signed it anyway -- though not without warning. According to the Indianapolis Star, he said, "This law is not an invitation to use violence or force against law enforcement officers … so don't try anything." But that, officers fear, is exactly what people may think.
Though the law has steps a person must take before legally being allowed to use force against a police officer (like trying to escape from the scene), law enforcement officials doubt people will take the time to read and understand it.
"The unfortunate thing is probably the more publicity it gets, the more people are gonna think they have a right to resist no matter what they [police] do," said Tim Downs, president of Indiana's Fraternal Order of Police.
The effects are already starting to be seen. The law has only been in effect for just over a month, but according to Downs, "There [are] reports coming in where people are challenging the police now because they think they have the right to resist no matter what they [police] do." The Indiana State FOP is tracking these reports and hopes to use them as a reason for the Legislature to revisit and possibly repeal the law, which passed with bipartisan support, next session. Indiana State FOP lawyers are currently researching the constitutionality of the law.
The law not only has the potential to put police officers' safety at risk, but also the public's. That's because, according to public safety officials, police in Indiana will now likely take extra caution when responding to emergencies -- and that means a delay in service. For example, if an injured person calls 911 seeking help but is unable to answer the door when the police arrive, instead of breaking in, officers may take extra time to contact their supervisor to try to get a hold of the person inside. "All the while the resident is injured and is not receiving help," said Richardson.
In certain cases, like domestic violence ones, police often don't have time to secure a search warrant. But the new law gives police incentive to do so, reducing the speed at which help is on the scene, according to officials.
Lawmakers introduced the legislation to combat a controversial state Supreme Court ruling last May in which the court sided with a police officer who -- lawfully, according to the court -- entered an apartment to respond to a domestic violence complaint. The Barnes v. Indiana court opinion, however, concluded that "allowing resistance unnecessarily escalates the level of violence and therefore the risk of injuries to all parties involved without preventing the arrest."
After receiving death threats and calls from lawmakers and from state Attorney General Greg Zoeller out of concern that the opinion overturned the state's castle doctrine law and the violated the U.S. Constitution's protections against unreasonable search and seizure, according to the Star, the justices later clarified that the Fourth Amendment protections were still in place. Republican state Rep. Jud McMillin, one of the bill's co-sponsors, didn't think that was enough.
"I heard from a whole bunch of constituents who said 'Look, this is the United States of America. You're supposed to be able to protect yourself against anything that's happening to you that's unlawful."
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.