Public Servants and the Castle Doctrine

My friends Curtis Gale Weeks, Brendan Grant, and Fred Leland, Jr. used Facebook to discuss the following news story: “Indiana Bill on Using Force Against Police Wins Approval

The scenario under discussion is terrifying. Imagine an innocent man at home with his family in a bad neighborhood. Because the area is without police protection, the man sleeps with a gun under his mattress to protect his loved ones from armed intruders. Suddenly, the door is kicked in. He hears screams. He is rushed by strangers.

The man now faces the following dilemma

The Intruders are Police The Intruders are not Police
The Man Defends His Family The Man Becomes a “Felon” The Man Becomes a “Hero”
The Man Does Not Defend His Family The Man Becomes a “Good Citizen” The Man Becomes “Dead”

Without strong “castle” laws like the one recently passed in Indiana, the law is increasingly unfair to you the less more criminals live around you.

What’s tragic about this situation, of course, is that (good) cops and (law-abiding) citizens both want peace.

There are three methods to establish peace, with respect to how we trust cops and citizens

1. Trust the police but not citizens. This is the status quo without the strong castle doctrine
2. Trust citizens but not the police. Give limited immunity to citizens for violence against police, while hold police strictly criminally liable for false imprisonment, kidnapping, etc. Anarchists tend to support this position
3. Place limited trust in the police and limited trust in citizens. Provide limited immunity for actions that either commit based on reasonable fear and self-defense. Criminally prosecute those that overstep their bounds.

We should place limited trust in the police, as we place limited trust in professors, bureaucrats, teachers, parents, and others. We should have systems of control to reward behavior we like, while recognizing that no one is all-knowing. A home-owner facing a home-invasion should be no more afraid of defending himself than a parent, faced with a failing school, should be afraid of enrolling his child in another school.

Government workers are not monsters. Nor are they angels. They are human beings, who respond to incentives, who dislike responsibility and accountability, who care for their families, and who do their job well enough not to be fired.

Whenever there is an information asymmetry — that a citizens and a government workers cannot be sure of where each other stand — the law should recognize that every person (citizens and government workers) are attempting to act in their own self-interest. People and organizations with understanding and empathy will do well, and others will do poorly, but everyone is flawed in their own unique way.