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Governor signs bill regarding residents resisting police

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Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said Wednesday that he shares police groups' concerns that some people might misinterpret a new law that lays out when residents could be legally justified in using force against police officers.

Daniels said he thought carefully before signing the bill Tuesday night. The legislation was passed by strong majorities in the House and Senate in response to public uproar after the state Supreme Court ruled last year that residents couldn't resist officers even during an illegal entry.

"Contrary to some impressions, the bill strengthens the protection of Indiana law enforcement officers by narrowing the situations in which someone would be justified in using force against them," Daniels said in a written statement. But, he added: "What is troubling to law enforcement officers, and to me, is the chance that citizens hearing reports of change will misunderstand what the law says."

The law took immediate effect.

The measure specifies that people are protected by the state's self-defense law if they reasonably believe force is necessary to protect themselves, someone else or their own property from unlawful actions by a public servant.

Supporters have said the proposal strengthens the legal rights of people against government agents improperly entering their homes. But police groups worried about the measure giving people justification for attacking officers.

"For those who don't take the time to read the law, it is going to be devastating for someone to think they have a right to resist if they only think an officer is acting illegally," said William Owensby, president of the Indianapolis chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.

"Our fear all along was that it's going to put citizens and officers into grave danger," he said. "I don't want to have to bury another police officer."

A blizzard of emails to officials, a Statehouse protest and threats against judges ensued when the Indiana Supreme Court ruled last May that homeowners couldn't use force to resist police officers' entry into their homes, whether those entries were legal or not. The justices later clarified that the ruling didn't abridge homeowner's Fourth Amendment rights.

The ruling came in a Vanderburgh County case in which a man scuffled with an officer who tried to enter his house without a warrant while investigating a report of a domestic disturbance. The man, Richard Barnes, was convicted of resisting law enforcement and other charges.

The court declined comment on the law through a spokesman.

At least one supporter said the law didn't accomplish what it was supposed to do because it didn't affect situations like that covered by the Supreme Court decision.

"I think it was a feel-good measure on their part but it really didn't achieve anything," said Greg Fettig of the tea party group America Refocused. "Police could still go in without any probable cause whatsoever."

Fettig added: "As far as I'm concerned as a private citizen, I will not let them in without a search warrant."

The bill's primary author, Republican Sen. Michael Young of Indianapolis, said he believes the new law does a good job of balancing police power with individual rights.

"I think the governor took his time and deliberated on the issue just like we did in the General Assembly. It's a tough issue," Young said.

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  • legailty of defense issue
    So if police break into the wrong house at night and do not announce themselves, a person who wakes up thinking a burgler has suprised him and attempts a defense of life or property - he could easily wind up shot or dead, but also a possible winner of an ACLU lawsuit.....
  • Tough call
    I can see both sides. Government agents have destroyed people's property and ransacked their homes only to discover they searched the wrong house. In the particular case in question, the court was correct...there was a domestic disturbance...more than one person lived at that address. The other person has rights too. You are beating up your wife, she calls the police, they arrive, and the beater can resist with deadly force...sorry, the wife has rights as a resident too. The police should be able to enter to protect the other party. No doubt the people who protested the loudest about government intrusion will be the last to understand what the law really says. I don't know if the law helps or hurts. There are plenty of people out there who would like to resist...this may give them license...I hope not. In the case where the ruling was applied, given that particular set of facts, the court's ruling was justified in my opinion...but I can understand why the opinion handed down upset people so much, it seemed very far reaching and inclusive.
  • Good but...
    it's sort of sad that a law had to be passed for this. Anyone entering your home without your approval (or a warrant) should be subject to trespassing and the rights of the homeowner to defend their property from the incursion should not be infringed. Obviously that doesn't give you cart blanche to go shooting anyone that steps on your property either.
  • Jobs Picture
    Daniels was also under pressure from several companies that were considering Indiana as a site for new manufacturing. The rumors suggest that many were strongly against the "Police State Appearance" that the "Knock Down Any Door Law" suggested. I also believe that some police officers realized they stood a good chance of getting shot upon entering the wrong home. Good job Mitch, you are creating jobs and saving the lives of our police officers. Frankly, it was a dumb law.

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