No Right to Assault Police Officer Entering Home Even if Entrance is Unlawful, Indiana Supreme Court Holds

The decision is Barnes v. State, and the Indiana Supreme Court divided 3-2.

In this case, the officer had come to the home in response to a domestic violence call. He found the defendant, Barnes, outside. The officer and the defendant exchanged heated words, and the defendant started yelling at the officer. The officer threatened to arrest the defendant if he didn’t calm down, and the defendant threatened to have the officer arrested if he arrested him. At this point the defendant’s wife came outside, threw a duffel bag in the defendant’s direction, and told him to take the rest of his stuff. She then went back inside the home. The defendant then reentered the home following his wife, but once inside he blocked the officer (and another officer) from entering. The officers asked if they could enter the home, and the defendant’s wife pleaded with the defendant to let them enter. The defendant refused. The police then entered anyway, and the defendant “shoved [an officer] against the wall.” The officers then tazed the defendant and arrested him.

The defendant was charged with misdemeanor battery against a police officer, among other things. At trial, he wanted to argue to the jury that it was lawful to shove the officer because he had a citizen’s right to reasonably resist unlawful entry into his home. He sought the following jury instruction:

When an arrest is attempted by means of a forceful and unlawful entry into a citizen‘s home, such entry represents the use of excessive force, and the arrest cannot be considered peaceable. Therefore, a citizen has the right to reasonably resist the unlawful entry.

The trial judge refused to let the defendant make that argument to the jury. The jury convicted, and the defendant argued that it was legal error to deny him his defense. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled 3-2 that there is no such right to resist unlawful police entry into the home. From the opinion:

The English common-law right to resist unlawful police action existed for over three hundred years, and some scholars trace its origin to the Magna Carta in 1215. Craig Hemmens & Daniel Levin, “Not a Law at All”: A Call for the Return to the Common Law Right to Resist Unlawful Arrest, 29 Sw. U. L. Rev. 1, 9 (1999). The United States Supreme Court recognized this right in Bad Elk v. United States, 177 U.S. 529, 535 (1900): “If the officer had no right to arrest, the other party might resist the illegal attempt to arrest him, using no more force than was absolutely necessary to repel the assault constituting the attempt to arrest.” The Supreme Court has affirmed this right as recently as 1948. United States v. Di Re, 332 U.S. 581, 594 (1948) (“One has an undoubted right to resist an unlawful arrest, and courts will uphold the right of resistance in proper cases.”).

In the 1920s, legal scholarship began criticizing the right as valuing individual liberty over physical security of the officers. Hemmens & Levin, supra, at 18. One scholar noted that the common-law right came from a time where “resistance to an arrest by a peace officer did not involve the serious dangers it does today.” Sam B. Warner, The Uniform Arrest Act, 28 Va. L. Rev. 315, 330 (1942). The Model Penal Code eliminated the right on two grounds: “(1) the development of alternate remedies for an aggrieved arrestee, and (2) the use of force by the arrestee was likely to result in greater injury to the person without preventing the arrest.” Hemmens & Levin, supra, at 23. In response to this criticism, a majority of states have abolished the right via statutes in the 1940s and judicial opinions in the 1960s. Id. at 24–25. . .

We believe . . . that a right to resist an unlawful police entry into a home is against public policy and is incompatible with modern Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. Nowadays, an aggrieved arrestee has means unavailable at common law for redress against unlawful police action. E.g., Warner, supra, at 330 (citing the dangers of arrest at common law—indefinite detention, lack of bail, disease-infested prisons, physical torture—as reasons for recognizing the right to resist); State v. Hobson, 577 N.W.2d 825, 835–36 (Wis. 1998) (citing the following modern developments: (1) bail, (2) prompt arraignment and determination of probable cause, (3) the exclusionary rule, (4) police department internal review and disciplinary procedure, and (5) civil remedies). We also find that allowing resistance unnecessarily escalates the level of violence and therefore the risk of injuries to all parties involved without preventing the arrest— as evident by the facts of this instant case. E.g., Hobson, 577 N.W.2d at 836 (“But in arrest situations that are often ripe for rapid escalation, one‘s ̳measured‘ response may fast become excessive.”).

Further, we note that a warrant is not necessary for every entry into a home. For example, officers may enter the home if they are in “hot pursuit” of the arrestee or if exigent circumstances justified the entry. E.g., United States v. Santana, 427 U.S. 38, 42–43 (1976) (holding that retreat into a defendant‘s house could not thwart an otherwise proper arrest made in the course of a ―hot pursuit‖); Holder v. State, 847 N.E.2d 930, 938 (Ind. 2006) (“Possible imminent destruction of evidence is one exigent circumstance that may justify a warrantless entry into a home if the fear on the part of the police that the evidence was immediately about to be destroyed is objectively reasonable.”). Even with a warrant, officers may have acted in good faith in entering a home, only to find later that their entry was in error. E.g., Arizona v. Evans, 514 U.S. 1, 11 (1994); United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 922–25 (1984). In these situations, we find it unwise to allow a homeowner to adjudge the legality of police conduct in the heat of the moment. 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.

From the dissent:

[T]he common law rule supporting a citizen‘s right to resist unlawful entry into her home rests on . . . the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Indeed, “the physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.” Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 585 (1980). In my view it is breathtaking that the majority deems it appropriate or even necessary to erode this constitutional protection based on a rationale addressing much different policy considerations. There is simply no reason to abrogate the common law right of a citizen to resist the unlawful police entry into his or her home.

In Miller v. United States, 357 U.S. 301, 313-14 (1958) the United States Supreme Court held that it was unlawful to arrest the defendant on criminal charges when a warrantless arrest was conducted by police officers breaking and entering the defendant‘s apartment without expressly announcing the purpose of their presence or demanding admission. In recounting the historical perspective for its holding the Court quoted eighteenth century remarks attributed to William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, on the occasion of a debate in Parliament:

The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter; the rain may enter; but the King of England cannot enter – all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!

Id. at 307. The same is no less true today and applies equally to forces of the State.

At issue in this case is not whether [the defendant] had the right to resist unlawful police entry into his home – a proposition that the State does not even contest – but rather whether the entry was illegal in the first place, and if so, whether and to what extent Barnes could resist entry without committing a battery upon the officer. Federal Fourth Amendment jurisprudence is equal to the task of resolving these issues. In my view the majority sweeps with far too broad a brush by essentially telling Indiana citizens that government agents may now enter their homes illegally – that is, without the necessity of a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstances. And that their sole remedy is to seek refuge in the civil arena. I disagree and therefore respectfully dissent.

Thanks to reader Laura Victoria for the link.