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Indiana First State to Allow Citizens to Use Force Against Law Enforcement Officers

Indiana has become the first state in the Union to explicitly allow citizens to use force against officers. The National Rifle Association lobbied extensively for the law, saying an unfavorable State Supreme Court decision led to the need for a clear law that would allow homeowners to defend themselves during a violent, unjustified attack. Police and other law enforcement agencies had lobbied against it.

The law amended a 2006 so-called Castle Doctrine bill that allows deadly force to stop illegal entry into a home or car. It was approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Republican Governor Mitch Daniels in March.

The law describes the ability to use force to “protect the person or a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force.”

In enacting this section, the general assembly finds and declares that it is the policy of this state to recognize the unique character of a citizen’s home and to ensure that a citizen feels secure in his or her own home against unlawful intrusion by another individual or a public servant. By reaffirming the long standing right of a citizen to protect his or her home against unlawful intrusion, however, the general assembly does not intend to diminish in any way the other robust self defense rights that citizens of this state have always enjoyed. Accordingly, the general assembly also finds and declares that it is the policy of this state that people have a right to defend themselves and third parties from physical harm and crime.

    SECTION 1. IC 35-41-3-2, AS AMENDED BY P.L.189-2006, SECTION 1

State Senator R. Michael Young (Rep.), the bill’s author, said that, so far, there haven’t been any cases in which an Indiana resident has used the law to justify shooting police. He said “public servant” was added to clarify the law after a state Supreme Court ruling last year that “there is no right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers.”

Young alluded to the hypothetical situation of a homeowner returning to find an officer raping his daughter or wife. Under the state court’s ruling, that homeowner’s only recourse would be to file a lawsuit later but was prevented by law from physically stopping the officer.

“There are bad legislators,” Young said. “There are bad clergy, bad doctors, bad teachers, and it’s these officers that we’re concerned about that when they act outside their scope and duty that the individual ought to have a right to protect themselves.”

Supporters of the bill did seek to accommodate police by adding specific requirements that might justify force, and by replacing “law enforcement officer” in the original version with “public servant,” said Republican state Representative Jud McMillin, the House sponsor.

The measure requires those using force to “reasonably believe” a law-enforcement officer is acting illegally and that it is required to prevent “serious bodily injury,” Daniels said in a statement when he signed the law. “In the real world, there will almost never be a situation in which these extremely narrow conditions are met,” Daniels said. “This law is not an invitation to use violence or force against law enforcement officers.”

Opponents see potential for mistakes and abuse. The law is unclear whether an officer acting in good faith could be legally shot for mistakenly kicking down the wrong door to serve a warrant, said state Senator Tim Lanane, the assistant Democratic leader and an attorney. “It’s a risky proposition that we set up here,” Lanane said.

“It’s just a recipe for disaster,” said Downs, chief of the Lake County police in northwest Indiana. “It just puts a bounty on our heads. ”Downs said he canceled his NRA membership after the organization pressed for the Indiana legislation.

The NRA helped get the measure through the Legislature and encouraged its members to contact lawmakers and Daniels. The legislation reversed an “activist court decision,” and “restores self-defense laws to what they were,” the NRA said on its legislative website.

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