Chesterton Tribune

Lawmakers unsure where to go with illegal entry ruling

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Franklin College Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS – A study committee reviewing a controversial court decision that found Hoosiers do not have the right to resist police officers they believe are entering their homes illegally has no direction after its second meeting Wednesday.

Sen. Brent Steele, chairman of the Barnes v. State Subcommittee, said at the end of the meeting that his “crystal ball is not really that clear today.”

“Right now I’m not putting my mind at trying to come up with a legislative fix,” said Steele, R-Bedford. “I just don’t know exactly where we are going.”

The four-person committee compromised of Steele, Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, and Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, listened to more than two hours of testimony, mostly from Hoosiers opposed to the ruling.

Paul Wheeler of Speedway came to the Statehouse dressed as a knight with a sign around his neck with the words: “uphold castle doctrine.” It’s a reference to a state law that gives Hoosiers broad leeway to use force to protect their homes.

Critics of the Indiana Supreme Court’s May ruling say it not only violates the state constitution but also contradicts the castle doctrine.

Wheeler asked the committee rhetorically: When does public policy trump constitutional law?

“Public policy changes from year to year,” Wheeler said. “Constitutional laws need to remain the same.”

Lisa Deaton of Columbus said lawmakers – not the Indiana Supreme Court – should be approving changes as substantial as those made in the court case.

“It was inappropriate,” she said.

Attorney Paul Ogden of Indianapolis supported the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision. He said that the police had the right to enter the home of Richard L. Barnes, 57, who is at the heart of the case.

Barnes was convicted of misdemeanor resisting law enforcement for shoving an officer who tried to enter his home without a warrant. The police were responding to a 911 call about a domestic disturbance.

Barnes appealed the conviction, saying the constitution allowed him to try to prevent the police from entering his home. But the Indiana Supreme Court upheld Barnes conviction, saying that Hoosiers have no right to resist police entry, even if they believe the officers are in the wrong.

“The Constitution doesn’t matter,” said Ogden. “The state can give you more rights, more protection, than exist in The Constitution.”

Leo Blackwell, a counsel representing the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police, was one of just two people who spoke in support of the ruling. He said there is significant danger to police when they respond to domestic violence calls like the ones in involving Barnes.

“It is a significant factor that has to be considered in striking the proper balance between a citizen’s right and effective law enforcement,” Blackwell said.

Homeowners should not be making this kind of decision while they are on the “front porch,” he said.

Blackwell also worried that revoking the high court’s ruling would also put police officers in a “Catch-22.”

Without the protection provided by the Indiana Supreme Court, officers entering a home when they believe they should check on someone’s safety risk violence from the homeowner. But if officers opt not to go in, they risk criticism later if a person is injured or killed, he said.

Blackwell said the Indiana Supreme Court’s heart was in the right place and the rationale of their decision needs to be upheld.

As the hearing closed, Steele asked members to send him their ideas for legislation, which could be considered at a future meeting.

So far, Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, is the only lawmaker who has announced he will draft a bill that would overturn the court’s ruling.


Posted 8/25/2011