Indiana Courts Throw Out Conviction Due to Officer’s Unlawful Entry

In a recent decision,  Harper v. State of Indiana, 49A04-1305-CR-222 (Ind. App. 2014), the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Harper’s conviction for Resisting Law Enforcement as a Class A Misdemeanor.

The facts were as follows: Mrs. Harper was inside her home when officers arrived after being called to a domestic dispute.  Mrs. Harper, at that time, told the officers that she was not injured and did not wish to press charges against her husband, Mr. Harper.  After being called to the scene a couple of blocks away, officers learned that Mr. Harper had been severely injured, and Mr. Harper claimed that Mrs. Harper had caused the injuries.  Upon returning to the Harper residence, Mrs. Harper answered the door, opening the inside door, while leaving the screen door to the residence secured.  The officers then “rused” Mrs. Harper outside by claiming that they needed her signature on a protective order against Mr. Harper, and attempted to arrest her.  She fled into her residence, and she was forcibly arrested and detained.  Without warning, one of the officers attempted to remove Mrs. Harper’s wedding ring to avoid injury to one of the officers.  Mrs. Harper fought back, and was charged with resisting law enforcement.  She appealed her bench conviction in the present appeal.

The Court first explained that leaving a screen or other temporary door closed does not express acquiescence to entry into a person’s home, and does not satisfy “consent” for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment or Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Likewise, the Court rejected the State’s argument that appearing in the threshold of her home was sufficiently “in public” as to diminish her expectation of privacy for analysis under the respective search and seizure provisions of the Indiana and United States constitutions.

The Court concluded that the officers unlawfully entered the Harper residence.  It reasoned that barring “exigent circumstances” as absent here, officers may not enter a residence to make an arrest–even upon probable cause–without an arrest warrant.

The implications of this case could be quite significant.  The Court was forced to wrestle with the issue of unlawful residential entry without the aid of the recent statute passed by the Indiana General Assembly, because Mrs. Harper failed to present the proper statutory argument to the trial court.  Last year, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law (I.C. 35-41-3-2) overturning Barnes v. State of Indiana, 946 N.E.2d 572 (Ind. 2011), which stated that persons do not have a right to reasonably resist law enforcement even when a residential entry is unlawful.

Instead, the Court relied upon language in the resisting law enforcement statute which reads, in pertinent part, “A person who knowingly or intentionally . . . forcibly resists, obstructs, or interferes with a law enforcement officer . . . while the officer is lawfully engaged in the execution of the officer’s duties . . .commits a Class A Misdemeanor, resisting law enforcement.”

The issue in the case was whether the officer’s conduct was “lawful” under the circumstances.  The Court determined that it was not, and reversed Mrs. Harper’s conviction for resisting law enforcement.

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