If you were to find yourself combing through the pages of the Indiana Code for some reason, you would see that most provisions simply set forth the nuts and bolts of the law without getting into the reasons behind the law or expounding upon the public policy that the law supposedly advances. One striking exception to that general rule is Indiana’s law regarding self-defense.
Indiana’s legislators felt so strongly about self-defense that the law begins with this statement:
Use of force to protect person or property
Sec. 2. (a) 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. The purpose of this section is to provide the citizens of this state with a lawful means of carrying out this policy.
That language reflects the “Castle Doctrine,” which was added as a part of a 2006 amendment to the Code. The “Castle Doctrine” (as in “one’s home is one’s castle”) says that if someone has entered or is attempting to enter your home without your consent, you’re legally permitted to use a reasonable amount of force to expel the intruder from your residence. If you reasonably believe your life or members of your family are in danger, you can use lethal force.
Nevertheless, Indiana’s self-defense law is very robust, and also includes a “stand your ground” provision like the one that was at the center of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case in Florida a couple of years back. Specifically, a person is justified in using reasonable force against any other person to protect the person or a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in using deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat:
if the person reasonably believes that that force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to the person or a third person or the commission of a forcible felony.
The law goes on to say that no person shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting the person or a third person by reasonable means necessary.
Similarly, the “Castle Doctrine” provision states that a person is justified in using reasonable force, including deadly force, against any other person and does not have a duty to retreat:
if the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent or terminate the other person’s unlawful entry of or attack on the person’s dwelling, curtilage, or occupied motor vehicle.
The law also details when force can be used to defend other personal property as well as stopping aircraft from being hijacked, among other situations.
Indiana amended its self-defense law in 2012 to great controversy by adding provisions regarding “public servants” to the code’s self-defense language. Specifically, Section 35-41-3-2(i) added that reasonable force may be used against a “public servant” if the person reasonably believes the force is necessary to protect the person or a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force or prevent the public servant’s “unlawful entry” on their dwelling or car. Many police organizations believed that the amendment, which was pushed by the National Rifle Association, arguably allows citizens to shoot police if they believe a “public servant” engages in an “unlawful intrusion” on their property, such as entering without a warrant. This is not in fact the case, as “reasonableness” in the use of force is key, as that terms and it variants is repeated and emphasized throughout the statute.
All of the foregoing is to say that self-defense is a very powerful defense in a number of situations in Indiana, but by the same token it is not a license to kill. What is “reasonable” in a given situation will vary from case to case, and if the actions supposedly taken in self-defense go beyond reasonableness, that legal defense may go beyond effectiveness as well.
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