©2011 Jack Ryan, Attorney, PATC Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute (www.llrmi.com)Barnes v. State of Indiana

A recent case from the Indiana Supreme Court has stirred some controversy and has been heralded by some as a major defeat for the Fourth Amendment sanctity of a person’s home.  In reality, the case has little to do with the Fourth Amendment and actually focuses on the right of a citizen to physically resist law enforcement action which the citizen believes to be improper.

The Indiana Supreme Court outlined the facts in Barnes v. State of Indiana, as follows:

On November 18, 2007, Richard Barnes argued with his wife Mary Barnes as he was moving out of their apartment. During the argument, Mary tried to call her sister but Barnes grabbed the phone from her hand and threw it against the wall. Mary called 911 from her cell phone and informed the dispatcher that Barnes was throwing things around the apartment but that he had not struck her. The 911 dispatch went out as a domestic violence in progress.

Officer Lenny Reed, the first responder, saw a man leaving an apartment with a bag and began questioning him in the parking lot. Upon identifying the man as Barnes, Reed informed him that officers were responding to a 911 call. Barnes responded that he was getting his things and leaving and that Reed was not needed. Barnes had raised his voice and yelled at Reed, prompting stares from others outside and several warnings from Reed.

Officer Jason Henry arrived on the scene and observed that Barnes was very agitated and was yelling.  Barnes continued to yell loudly and did not lower his voice until Reed warned that he would be arrested for disorderly conduct. Barnes retorted, “If you lock me up for disorderly conduct, you‘re going to be sitting right next to me in a jail cell.” Mary came onto the parking lot, threw a black duffle bag in Barnes’ direction, told him to take the rest of his stuff and she returned to the apartment. Reed and Henry followed Barnes back to the apartment. Mary entered the apartment, followed by Barnes, who then turned around and blocked the doorway. Barnes told the officers that they could not enter the apartment and denied Reed’s requests to enter and investigate. Mary did not explicitly invite the officers in, but she told Barnes several times, ‘Don‘t do this’ and ‘Just let them in’. Reed attempted to enter the apartment and Barnes shoved him against the wall. A struggle ensued and the officers used a choke hold and a Taser to subdue and arrest Barnes. Barnes suffered an adverse reaction to the Taser and was taken to the hospital.

Barnes was charged with a ‘Class A’ misdemeanor battery on a police officer, a ‘Class A’ misdemeanor for resisting law enforcement, a ‘Class B’ misdemeanor for disorderly conduct, and a ‘Class A’ misdemeanor for interference with the reporting of a crime. Before the trial, Barnes tendered a jury instruction on the right of a citizen to reasonably resist unlawful entry into the citizen’s home. The trial court refused Barnes’ instruction and did not otherwise instruct the jury about the right to reasonably resist. The jury found Barnes guilty of battery on a police officer, resisting law enforcement, and disorderly conduct.

Thus, at the outset it is important to note that this was not a case about whether or not these officers made a lawful entry into Barnes’ home.  Instead, the question was whether Barnes had a right to physically resist the officer’s entry if the entry was unlawful.

In its analysis the court did not decide whether or not the officers’ entry was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, but suggested that the nature of the 911 call may have justified the entry under exigent circumstances.  The court focused on the public policy behind allowing a person to resist an officer’s attempt to enter a home or arrest them.  The court noted that even when the officer would be justified in making an arrest or entering a home, the citizen or homeowner, not knowing all the facts available to the officer may decide to make a stand and fight, posing a threat to the officer as well as the citizen.

The Indiana Supreme Court adopted the more common sense approach, which makes it illegal for a citizen to resist the officer’s efforts.  This does not mean the citizen is giving up any rights; they are merely saving the ‘fight’ for another day and without physical confrontation. The citizen can still challenge the search both in the criminal court (assuming evidence was seized that can be excluded if the officer was wrong) and in the civil courts where the citizen can sue the officer who unlawfully enters. The only thing the citizen is precluded from doing is physically confronting the officer at the door.  Thus, the citizen must obey the officer’s action at the scene and grieve the action later in the courts. This represents the safer approach for the officer and also for citizen safety.

Questions about this or other rulings impacting law enforcement?
Contact James Alsup, PATC Director, by email: director@patc.com,  by phone: 800.365.0119

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Note:  Court holdings can vary significantly between jurisdictions.  As such, it is advisable to seek the advice of a local prosecutor or legal advisor regarding questions on specific cases.  This article is not intended to constitute legal advice on a specific case.

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