Last year, the Indiana state supreme court ruled that homeowners have no right to resist an illegal entry onto their property–if the lawbreakers are police. That is, even if a police officer has no warrant, even if he has no reason to believe any crime is being committed, even if he has no justification whatsoever for breaking into a private citizen’s property, if he wants to break into someone’s house, the occupants are required to submit without protest. Otherwise they’ll be charged assault, disorderly conduct, or some other trumped up charge.
The court’s decision, which disposes with protections provided for by both the Constitution and the Magna Carta, was a ruling on the case, Barnes v. State of Indiana. The dispute arose in 2007, when neighbors called the police on Richard Barnes, who was apparently in a heated argument with his wife. The police who responded to the call had no warrant to enter Barnes’s property, and they had no reason to believe that there was anything illegal going on. Nevertheless, they wanted to enter the house.
Barnes, completely within his rights as a property owner in a supposedly free country, refused to allow the police inside. They entered regardless, and when Barnes tried to block them and pushed one up against the wall, the other tasered him and put him in a choke hold. Barnes was hospitalized and later charged with misdemeanor battery on a police officer.
When the case went to court, Barnes’ lawyers based their defense on a private citizen’s right to resist unlawful entry into his home. When they lost, they appealed, and the case eventually made its way to the Indiana Supreme Court.
The court agreed that the officers had no right to enter Barnes’ home. They agreed that the right to resist illegal entry has been recognized since the days of the Magna Carta. They agreed that the U.S. Supreme Court had reaffirmed this right in numerous court cases. Nevertheless, Justice Steven David explained, “We hold that there is -no right- to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers.”
The erosion of such rights is proceeding rapidly in America; the president even claims the right to assassinate any American citizen his administration deems dangerous. But what makes this decision particularly notable is the outrage it inspired, and that outrage has nearly succeeded in winning a rear guard victory for property rights and freedom. Indiana’s House and Senate have approved a bill that would reaffirm a citizen’s right to resist illegal entry onto their property, even by police.
Senate Enrolled Act 1 permits a person to use reasonable force against a public servant, including police officers, to protect themselves from the imminent use of unlawful force, prevent illegal entry into a home or vehicle, or stop the unlawful taking of a person’s property.
It’s now up to Gov. Mitch Daniels to sign the bill.
Of course, if the Daniels does sign it, it will remain to be seen how the courts will interpret the new law–the definition of the word “reasonable” is always contentious. But at the very least, the new law would represent a significant symbolic victory for private property rights.
Opponents of the bill are worried about officer safety, but I have a solution for the police: don’t enter someone’s property when you don’t have a warrant, and when you do have a warrant, double-check the address. Problem solved.