Level of Privacy in Your Home

The Indiana Court of Appeals released an interesting opinion yesterday. It was a criminal appeal from the trial court wherein a Defendant (Harper) had previously been convicted of resisting arrest. Why is this opinion important to most of us who are law-abiding citizens? Because it serves to clarify and further define our constitutional rights and protections as they relate to the level of privacy that we are afforded within our own homes.

The basic fact pattern of Harper v. State is this: The arresting officers attempted to gain access to a private residence in order to affect an arrest upon Harper in her home, without first obtaining an arrest warrant (the potential crime that was being investigated was Domestic Battery, but the alleged victim was not in the home). Harper was home alone at the time and denied access to the officers. She opened her prime door but always left the screen door shut, and she never went onto the porch. The opinion then notes that one officer essentially lied to Harper in an attempt to trick her into allowing the officers to enter into the home (the officer indicated to her that she needed to fill out some protective order paperwork that was on a clipboard). Believing the officer’s statement to be true, Harper then allowed the officers to enter into the home. After she returned the clipboard, the officers immediately placed her under arrest. One of the officers then attempted to remove Harper’s wedding ring, pursuant to what the officer purported to be a Marion County Jail policy (though this policy apparently was not explained to the Harper), which drew resistance from Harper when she began moving forward and violently thrusting her shoulders, etc. As a result, Harper was eventually charged with resisting law enforcement and was convicted after a bench trial.

To be convicted of resisting law enforcement, not only must a Defendant “resist” law enforcement, as the term “resistance” is commonly understood, but also the resistance must occur while the officer is “lawfully engaged in the execution of the officer’s duties”. See Indiana Code 35-44.1-3-1. On appeal in this case, the Court concluded that when an officer lies or utilizes a fraudulent representation in order to gain entry into the access of one’s private home that officer is no longer “lawfully engaged in the execution of the officer’s duties”. In order to effectuate a lawful arrest, the officer should have obtained voluntarily consent (without misrepresentation) or obtained an arrest warrant in the absence of an exigent circumstance to enter the home (i.e. person is in immediate danger, or imminent risk of destruction of evidence, etc.) Because the officers’ entrance into the home was accomplished through the use of fraud and artifice, and the officers failed to properly obtain a search warrant, the Court determined that the entry into Harper’s home was illegal and reversed her conviction. Because the holding of this case bears so directly upon our privacy rights as citizens, and the limitations that the law places upon the actions and conduct of law enforcement, it is an important case to learn and understand.

The case was decided by the Indiana Court of Appeals on February 26, 2014.

The full opinion can be viewed at:
http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/02261410pdm.pdf

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