The Indiana Supreme Court handed down a controversial decision (pdf) last week that said that Indiana would no longer recognize the common law right to resist unlawful entry by police officers.
At common law, a person had the right to resist, using reasonable force, the unlawful entry of police into one’s home. The Indiana Supreme Court decided, in effect, times have changed since the old days, and the costs outweigh the benefits in our modern times. In the bad old days, the king’s men could abduct you, hold you indefinitely, and torture you. And, if you did get out of the dungeon, you had no recourse against the king. Today, you have a right to bail, speedy trial, a probable cause hearing, etc., and you can sue the government for false imprisonment and other violations. With those protections, the dangers are reduced, and make the dangers on that side of the scale less than the dangers you get when you allow people in tense situations to make snap legal decisions about whether police action is lawful and use force to resist the police.
Not mentioned in this decision, but quite possibly on the judges’ minds, was the prospect of everyone who used force against the police making up some unlawful entry story in retrospect and making violence against the police a more viable alternative for criminals.
Philosophically, I’m uneasy about this case. As a practical matter, under the facts of this case, I’m not too troubled. I think I would have preferred that the court use language to allow resistance in egregious cases, but not under close calls like this one. Justice Dickson and Justice Rucker’s dissents urge something like this course.
The police apparently got called to the apartment to respond to domestic violence in process. Husband was throwing stuff around the apartment and had apparently ripped a phone out of Wife’s hands and thrown it against the wall. When the police got there, Husband & Wife met the police in the parking lot. Police followed them back to the apartment, Husband barred entry while Wife said things like “just let them in.” Police tried to force their way, and Husband resisted physically.
The majority almost certainly could have issue a narrower rationale for telling Husband he wasn’t allowed to do what he did.