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‘Castle Doctrine’ no defense in police/homeowner confrontations

By Pat Murphy
Dolan Newswires

The rules are simple when it comes to dealing with police: be polite and follow instructions.

If you observe those rules, the overwhelming odds are that you will shortly be on your merry way with no more damage than an annoying traffic ticket. Who knows, the officer might even cut you a break.

On the other hand, if you get confrontational, it’s a good bet you’ll spend the night in jail and the ensuing months in court trying to avoid prison.

The rules apply whether a cop pulls you over for speeding or unexpectedly comes knocking at your front door.

Now, some people have the misguided notion that you have the right to defend the home against all comers, even police. We all instinctively understand the “Castle Doctrine.” A man’s home is his castle.

To avoid charges of sexism, let’s just say a person’s home is his/her castle.

But I digress.

The common understanding is that every homeowner has the right to reasonably resist unlawful entry. But should that right include the right to resist police officers who unlawfully invade one’s home?

Common sense says that you never take on police wherever you are because you will always lose that fight. If police unlawfully enter your home, stand aside and let the courts sort it out later.

But that doesn’t answer the legal issue: Is the Castle Doctrine a defense to a charge of battery upon a police officer?

This brings us to the case of Richard Barnes. On Nov. 18, 2007, Barnes allegedly shoved a police officer against a wall during the course of a domestic dispute at the Vanderburgh County apartment he shared with his wife, Mary.

Even though police were responding to a 911 call from Mary, Barnes claimed that the police officer’s warrantless entry of his home was unlawful and that he had a right to resist that unlawful entry.

In a decision last May, the Indiana Supreme Court rejected Barnes’ argument that the jury should have been instructed that he had the right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police.

There were those in the Indiana General Assembly who were appalled at the apparent limitation on the time-honored Castle Doctrine, while others in the state who thought the state supreme court’s decision wasn’t clear enough on the need to protect officer safety in context of dicey domestic situations.

So the high court reheard the case, issuing a new decision last week that unequivocally put a stake in the heart of the Castle Doctrine in the context of police/homeowner confrontations.

“[W]e hold that the Castle Doctrine is not a defense to the crime of battery or other violent acts on a police officer,” the court said.

“Our holding does no more than bring Indiana common law in stride with jurisdictions that value promoting safety in situations where police and homeowners interact. Importantly, we observe the actions in this case were ‘appropriate to a rapidly unfolding situation in the immediate aftermath of a reported’ domestic violence situation.”

Since my sentiments naturally lean in favor of police who place their lives on the line every day, I have no quarrel with the decision other than it’s a point that all courts should have made clear decades ago.

The law shouldn’t give the slightest encouragement to drunken yahoos with amped up testosterone levels.

Remember the rules: be polite and follow instructions.

One comment

  1. The Wis. Supreme Court in 1998 abolished the common law right to forcibly resist an unlawful arrest in State v. Hobson, (96-0914-CR). Note paragraph # 39.

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