13

No-knock SWAT raids are very popular, especially in the US. But how do you know that the heavily armed persons are policemen? Isn't it very easy to mistake them for robbers? What if I try to defend myself and my family and start shooting, killing one of them in a believed act of self-defense? You could recognise them by the label on their uniform that says "SWAT", but this is not a valid indicator. Anyone could wear something like this. The only real way to identify the "intruders" as lawful police officers is their badge, but this won't help.
What would happen to me if something like this happened? Are there any special legislations considering this topic?

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    The fact that they're screaming "police!" at you repeatedly, and wielding equipment which is either exceeding difficult or impossible to obtain for anybody except police, wouldn't make it abundantly clear? – Nij Jan 2 '17 at 12:14
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    Well, no. Anyone could scream "Police" and anyone (in America) can buy pistols or shotguns. And how can I make educated split-second guess on how their gear has been obtained? Many airsoft-players have equipment that is very close to army or SWAT equipment going by the looks. – Grunzwanzling Jan 2 '17 at 12:18
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    A reasonable person would not assume an intruder that identifies themselves as police and is wearing typical or heavier police garb and equipment, is in fact not police. You'd be hit with every charge possible for obstruction, assaults officer, misuse of weapons and GBHWI/murder. – Nij Jan 2 '17 at 12:21
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    @Nij: Surely that depends on circumstances? Suppose there is a gang of robbers or kidnappers operating in the area who are known to wear imitation police uniforms and gear and to identify themselves as police. Suppose further that the victim has received threats from this gang, and conversely is generally law-abiding and has no particular reason to expect to be raided by the actual police. Under those circumstances, might not a reasonable person assume that a group of intruders wearing police uniforms and shouting "police" is actually the gang? – Nate Eldredge Jan 2 '17 at 18:51
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    @Nij Why not? If that results in people not shooting them, why wouldn't intruders do that? – David Schwartz Jan 5 '17 at 5:35
9

This area of law is dependent on affirmative defenses that states may choose to provide. I found two law review articles that present the situations in Georgia and Indiana.1, 2

Georgia

Georgia Code 16-3-23 provides a defense for the occupant in this situation. Epstein argues that this statute is somewhat ambiguous but it most likely even applies when the occupant only has a reasonable belief that the entry is unlawful (i.e. the entry doesn't have to actually be unlawful).1

Indiana

Indiana Code 35-41-3-2 provides a similar defense. The Indiana Legislature enacted 35-41-3-2 in response to a court decision that did not allow a jury to consider self-defense to an unlawful police entry.

Patterson analyzes Indiana's statute and comes to the same conclusion as Epstein did about Georgia's: "the statute allows an individual to use force on a reasonable belief that a police official is unlawfully entering their home".2

Policy conflict

Both Epstein and Patterson note the policy conflict that arises when states allow both no-knock warrants and affirmative defenses when an occupant reasonably believes an entry may be unlawful. They both suggest that states with such defenses available remove the permission for no-knock entries.


1. Epstein, Dimitri (2009) "Cops or Robbers? How Georgia's Defense of Habitation Statute Applies to No-Knock Raids by Police," Georgia State University Law Review: Vol. 26: Iss. 2, Article 5.

2. Patterson, C. (2014) "Don't Forget to Knock: Eliminating the Tension Between Indiana's Self Defense Statute and No-Knock Warrants," Ind. L. Rev., 47, 621.

10

In the situation described, the defender is unlikely to get out alive. In most such cases the police will be very proactive in trying to kill the shooter. They have radios and if a "man down" alert occurs, they will be out for blood.

If the shooter survives, the odds in court are against him, but not impossible. In one cases the defendant survived and argued that he was disoriented by the "flash-bang" grenade the police used and that he had no way of knowing the attackers were police. The jury acquitted him, although he spent two years in jail before the trial was granted.

Another related case, that of Corey May, became famous. May shot a cop busting into his apartment and was eventually freed, but not before he was convicted of capital murder and spent 5 years in jail. In May's case the cops did not even have a warrant for his particular apartment and were just busting down random doors. At the trial the cops lied repeatedly saying that they "knocked and identified themselves" and other such bullshit.

Note that if the feds are involved the shooter's chances of survival are much lower. Not only do the feds go in with take-no-prisoners attitudes, but the federal legal system is very heavily stacked against defendants. In multiple cases feds have raided some random person, fired so many rounds that they killed one of their own men, yet the (unarmed) defendant was convicted of the "murder". Federal officers are essentially immune to prosecution, so if you shoot at them your chance of survival is very low. In one case an unarmed suspect was found with multiple gunshots to the back, including a shot to the back of the head administered from close range when the suspect was lying on the ground. The subsequent "investigation" involved the agents being asked a few questions by their boss and then exonerated them. The FBI decided it was "justified use of force". Federal prosecutors never indict FBI agents, except for corruption. Keep that in mind before firing at the feds.

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    I agree. And I also think it is justified when policemen shoot at you after you gunned down one of them. If you get killed in the process it is bad luck, even when you had legitimate doubts about the intruders being policemen. The officers should not be prosecuted. But if you survive, in my opinion, you shouldn't go to jail either. – Grunzwanzling Jan 2 '17 at 16:56
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    Re 'In one case an unarmed suspect was found with multiple gunshots to the back, including a shot to the back of the head administered from close range when the suspect was lying on the ground. ': this interesting incident deserves a link with more specific information. – agc Jan 4 '17 at 4:19
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    At the trial the cops lied repeatedly saying that they "knocked and identified themselves" and other such bullshit. This one could also use a link. – mikeazo Jul 11 '18 at 16:28
4

This actually happened in Germany in 2010: When police raided the home of a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, the member fired a gun through the closed door before the police could identify themselves. One officer was killed.

The killer was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2011, but was acquitted on appeal by the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice). The court accepted the killer's claims that he thought he was being attacked by members of a rival gang and fired in self-defense.

So yes, if you can convince the court that you believed you were being attacked unlawfully, your action may count as self-defense. However, once you know (or could reasonably know) it is a police action, you can probably no longer claim this.

  • I would have guessed this but still thank you – Grunzwanzling Jan 19 '17 at 10:20
2

Apparently, it can go either way: http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/texas-no-knock-swat-raid. It will depend on lots of things, including potentially various facts and circumstances, how the DA is feeling, whether the judge/jury is in a good mood, etc. but in general, you have a right to defend yourself if you believe you are in serious imminent danger.

That said - it might be hard to convince people you thought police were robbers. It is theoretically possible someone could use the ruse you propose, but in reality, I think it's vanishingly rare. Why? Robbers want your stuff, not a fight. People that want you, not your stuff, are much less common and probably could find a better place to get you besides in your house.

Even if you have a genuine belief you are in danger and really don't know they're cops, shooting at them is (a) probably an immediate sentence of death by cop and (b) otherwise a fairly harrowing self defense case.

I'll refrain from posting rants about abuses by police except to say that you are free and sometimes you have to protect freedom by putting other people in the ground.

-4

Self defence varies by jurisdiction but the following is a reasonable approximation (except in Colorado where it is the law):

In People v. La Voie, Supreme Court of Colorado, 395 P.2d 1001 (1964), The court wrote, "When a person has reasonable grounds for believing, and does in fact actually believe, that danger of his being killed, or of receiving great bodily harm, is immanent, he may act on such appearances and defend himself, even to the extent of taking human life when necessary, although it may turn out that the appearances were false, or although he may have been mistaken as to the extent of the real actual danger."

The evidence would be presented and the jury would decide if such "reasonable grounds" existed. In my opinion, they don't.

  • The reference from Wikipedia is not really correct. If h2o.law.harvard.edu/cases/1511 is accurate, the quoted passage does appear in the La Voie decision, but it was quoted from an earlier decision, Young v. People, 47 Colo. 352, 107 P. 274. Also, "immanent" should be "imminent". – Nate Eldredge Jan 2 '17 at 19:07

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