Wed, Oct 10 2007 6:11 PM
Living By the Sword
Consider this scenario, police meaning to a serve a no-knock warrant
get lost and mistakenly end up invading the wrong house. The home
owner, defending his home from unidentified assailants, fires at and
kills an officer. Who is to blame?
One defense for the officers
jumps to mind, the home owner should have known that they were police
officers, if for no other reason than no simple criminals would employ
such bold and violent methods of entry. In addition to not being
factually correct, it also fails as a defense because the homeowner,
being a good citizen, is far more likely attribute the act to thugs
rather than public servants.
But clearly the blame lies on the
officers, as they failed to perform their duties correctly, by invading
the proper house. This event could have been prevented most easily by
the officers, who both made a thoughtful decision and performed an
action removed from routine, rather than by the home owner who made a
decision under stress while believing himself to be in normal
circumstances. We must conclude that the officers were where they did
not belong and the home owner acted justifiably towards armed men who
presence infringed on his rights.
There could be other scenarios
where officers have no legitimate reason to enter a home. Suppose the
warrant was served at the correct house, but the inhabitants were
innocent of the charge, that officers were sent to collect drugs that
do not exist. The home owner would not have any reason to act
differently than he did in the first scenario, and the presence of the
officers would be still unjustified and infringe on the owner's rights.
This change in the scenario does not require a change in our conclusion.
last scenario involves a mistake not in enforcement of a law, but in
the creation of that law. This time the warrant is served at the
correct house and the house really does contain the sought drugs. In
this scenario the home owner is more likely to identify the intruders
as police, as he is actually guilty. But what about the presence of the
police, what is there purpose for being there? They are enforcing a law
who's stated purpose is to infringe on the property rights of others.
The only difference between this scenario and the previous two is that
the officers are not accidentally infringing on a person's property and
his peaceful use of it, they are deliberately doing it. Should the home
owner fire on the officers, I still see no reason to change our
conclusion on who is at fault.
That conclusion is from a
legalistic view point, not unnecessarily a moral or philosophical one.
Libertarians may choose to not endorse violent defenses against the
State's abuses*, but they can not support legal retribution against the
rebels. Legality involves what you will be deliberately punished for,
morality involves what you should do. Not resisting the officers would
probably provide a more desirable outcome for home owner, even if he is
legally in his rights to defend his property. Mathew's acknowledgment
that "all they that take the sword shall perish
with the sword" was a moral statement of the impractically of violence,
it is not a legal code that promises retribution to violators.
*I do not endorse violence.
Filed under: Violence, morality, defense, police, legality