Restoring the Right of Self-Defense Is Not a License to Kill Cops


Former Reason writer Radley Balko notes that various news outlets are misrepresenting recent changes to Indiana's self-defense law as a license to kill cops. As Balko explains, the legislation, which Gov. Mitch Daniels signed last week, merely restores a common-law right that residents of the state had until last year, when the Indiana Supreme Court declared "there is no right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers." As I pointed out at the time, that conclusion was completely unnecessary for resolving the case, which involved a domestic dispute where a woman called 911. She wanted the police to enter the apartment she shared with her husband, while he tried to stop them. Even if the officers did not have a resident's consent, the situation was such that the court could have concluded "exigent circumstances" justified their entry. Instead the court decided to nullify a principle of common law that is centuries old and arguably dates back to the Magna Carta because it considered this right of self-defense outmoded and apt to encourage violence.

As a result of that decision, the only option for someone confronted by a police officer's unlawful violence was to sit and take it, then challenge the trespass or other crime after the fact. This legally required passiviity applied not only to cases of mistaken searches (such as the Cory Maye case in Mississippi, chronicled by Balko) but even to cases where cops knowingly break the law: A cop burglar or cop rapist could not be lawfully resisted, although he could be prosecuted after the fact.

Now that the right to reasonably resist police trespasses has been restored in Indiana, anyone using that defense still must show that his actions (including the level of force used as well as the decision to use force) were reasonable in the circumstances, as a defendant would have to show in any other case involving a claim of self-defense. As Mark Rutherford, chairman of the Indiana Public Defender Commission, tells Balko, the amendment "really just puts police officers on the same level as everyone else."