A Rare Glimpse into the Life-Cycle of a Law through the Three-Branches of Government
Many readers of Ciyou & Dixon, P.C.’s blog posts appreciate our commitment to the educational aspects of law. We fundamentally believe to live a better, fuller and more meaningful life under the law, and the make the most of the freedoms ensured by our legal system, we need to be life-long students.
Hopefully, most readers recognize that our current legal system and body of law is rooted in the English legal system. Even so, because laws usually change very slowly, most of us have a difficult time seeing the connections between past history and current laws. Until now.
On Tuesday, March 20, 2012, Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law Senate Enrolled Act 1. The statutory provisions it contains are in response to Barnes’ decisions in the Indiana Appellate Courts and reflect a change in the law in a matter of several months of a legal tenet that had been in operation long before Indiana became a state.
This blog post examines the legal doctrine–the right to resist unlawful police entry into one’s home–and how it was changed by intense engagement by the public and all three (3) branches of Indiana government. Understanding this gives each of us a unique look at the evolution of law that is usually hard to unearth because it occurs incrementally over decades.
By statute, Indiana incorporated English common law (Ind.Code § 1-1-2-1). In rural and agrarian England, the right to a court hearing to afford due process of law to remedy an unlawful arrest could be weeks or months in the making. For this reason, at common law, again which became Indiana law by passage of a statute, a man (or woman) could resist an unlawful police entry in his or her home.
During a domestic dispute between Richard Barnes and his wife, occurring on November 18, 2007, the police were dispatched and Mr. Barnes was arrested. Mr. Barnes was convicted by a jury related to his contact and conduct with the responding police officers. On appeal, Mr. Barnes challenged the trial court’s refusal to instruct the jury about the right of a citizen to resist an unlawful entry into his home.
On April 15, 2010, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, noting the trial court’s refusal to give Mr. Barnes’s proposed jury instruction on the right to resist unlawful police entry into his home was not a “harmless error” (Barnes v. State, 925 N.E.2d 420 (Ind.Ct.App.2010) (vacated)). The “harmless error” doctrine accounts for the fact no trial is perfect, and trial court judges make hundreds if not thousands of decision–a small mistake is not sufficient for an appellate court to reverse for new trial if it is harmless, or should it be.
Since the error in refusal to give this jury instruction could have changed the outcome–whether Mr. Barnes was convicted on some charged counts–the Court of Appeals reversed: A person is entitled to a jury instruction if the facts support it - that a citizen has the right to resist an unlawful police entry into his or her home, a common law legal principle adopted by Indiana.
The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer (accepted the case because of its important policy) and reversed. On May 12, 2011, a divided Indiana Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision in Mr. Barnes case and abrogated the common law right to resist an unlawful police entry into a home (Barnes v. State, 946 N.E.2d 572 (Ind.2011) (rehearing granted)
The Indiana Supreme Court ruled this way because of all of the other protections offered citizens in present times unavailable at common law (Barnes v. State, 925 N.E.2d 473 (Ind.2011) (affirming prior decision)).
Ultimately, there was some protest about this change in the law. Stated differently, some of the citizens disagreed with the decision and rationale of the Indiana Supreme Court. However, unlike many countries around the world, where a disagreement with the citizenry and government usually results in violence, the electorate engaged their elected officials.
A little over a year later in July, 2012, the General Assembly passed SEA No. 1, which was then signed into law by the Governor (Ind.Code § 35-41-3-2 (as amended)). Under this statute, there are two (2) steps a person must pass before threatening to use deadly force against a police officer: the citizen must reasonably believe the police officer is acting unlawfully and the use of force must be necessary to prevent serious bodily injury or death to the person.
No matter what your position (agree or disagree) with the present status of this law, its rapid change after existing for hundreds of years in the same form, provides a rare look into how all three (3) branches of government, that exist to serve the citizens and maintain a stable and fair society, may engage and change even the oldest of law.
That is the miracle that happened with the drafting of the American Constitution. We hope you recognize this. If so, this makes you a better citizen and more informed legal consumer. To this end, this blog post has met its goal. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys practice throughout the State. This blog post was written by Bryan L. Ciyou, Esq.