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Opening Arguments

Jumping (on) the gun

I did a post last week about a hysterical rant some columnist did about Indiana's new self-defense law in which he made the highly misleading claim that it amounts to open season on cops. That misleadding characterization has now showed up at several news outlets. But at least one critic is willing to take them to task:

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 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."

The most important point to stress is that the level of force used must be reasonable, and those using it will have to demonstrate that it was reasonable. Anybody who says the law does anything put everybody on a level playing field -- including police officers -- should probably not be trusted when writing about other issues, either.