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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ind. Decisions - SC of IND posts second opinion today

In Demetrius Walker v. State of Indiana, a 9-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice David writes:

Just because an individual refuses to comply with a police officer’s order does not necessarily subject that individual to criminal liability under Indiana’s resisting law enforcement statute. The individual must “forcibly” resist the officer’s lawful execution of his or her duties. But in this case the defendant refused repeated orders to lay down on the ground and advanced aggressively, with his fists clenched, to within a few feet of the police officer issuing the orders before ultimately being tased. We find this conduct was sufficient to support his conviction for resisting law enforcement, and therefore affirm the trial court. * * *

Walker appealed, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction for resisting law enforcement. The Court of Appeals affirmed, Walker v. State, 984 N.E.2d 642 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013), and Walker sought transfer to this Court. We heard oral argument on August 22, 2013, and now grant transfer [ILB emphasis], thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A). We likewise affirm. * * *

So in summary, not every passive—or even active—response to a police officer constitutes the offense of resisting law enforcement, even when that response compels the officer to use force. Instead, a person “forcibly” resists, obstructs, or interferes with a police officer when he or she uses strong, powerful, violent means to impede an officer in the lawful execution of his or her duties. But this should not be understood as requiring an overwhelming or extreme level of force. The element may be satisfied with even a modest exertion of strength, power, or violence. Moreover, the statute does not require commission of a battery on the officer or actual physical contact—whether initiated by the officer or the defendant. It also contemplates punishment for the active threat of such strength, power, or violence when that threat impedes the officer’s ability to lawfully execute his or her duties.

Still, these cases are necessarily fact-sensitive, and since Spangler appellate courts have attempted to place them along a spectrum of force, though often with the facts varying only by slight degrees. A side-effect of this approach can be a degree of unpredictability in outcome, for both the defendant and the State. * * *

[W]e still remain unconvinced that there needs to be any strict bright-line test for whether a defendant acts “forcibly”—at least, not one with any more definitiveness than the language already in use by our case law. * * *

Conclusion. We therefore affirm Walker’s conviction for resisting law enforcement.

Dickson, C.J., Massa, and Rush, J.J., concur.
Rucker, J., concurs in result.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 12, 2013 03:58 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions