If you’ve ever thought about setting up a booby trap to protect your home or business – especially during these chaotic times – read this before you do anything.
Philip C. was a handyman in Denver, CO, but on many occasions, thieves broke into Philip’s warehouse and stole his power tools. There were so many robberies, detectives asked Philip to mail in lists of the stolen tools after each crime.
Finally, Philip decided on a way to defend his warehouse and property, even when he was away. In addition to bars on the windows, steel doors (he welded the doors shut), Philip rigged a double-barreled shotgun to a trip-wire, and painted a warning on the door: “Danger – Enter at own risk.”
While Philip was on vacation, the shotgun killed a 19-year-old who was trying to break into the warehouse. Michael McComb, 19, of Denver, was shot in the chest during a burglary attempt at the warehouse. Philip was sentenced to six years of probation and $9,500 in fines for manslaughter.
So, regardless of how effective they may be, I would not set up booby traps in my home or business.Legality: Simply put, the law does not approve of booby traps.
If you set one, and someone gets hurt or killed by it, you will likely be criminally and civilly liable. Now, I realize this may sound unfair, after all, it’s your house.
But, written law around booby traps is vague. And while there is not a federal law against them, a few states do have specific laws against using booby traps.
Case law: Since most states lack specific laws on booby traps, many courts rely on case law. So, if the law surrounding a case is vague or nonexistent, judges will look at how other courts have ruled on similar cases.
And based on those cases, you’d probably be held responsible. In fact, the specific case law commonly referenced is Katko v. Briney. In the early 1970s, Edward Briney rigged a 20-gauge shotgun to fire whenever a certain bedroom door was opened in his house.
Marvin Katko entered the house to rob it, and the shotgun blasted his legs, sending him to the hospital. Edward Briney was held responsible in court.
Life vs. property: The main reason the law does not look kindly on booby traps is that our legal system values life over property. So, while you have the right to protect your home with deadly force, a booby trap operates without discretion for who it is harming.
A booby trap can’t discern whether it’s a lost child walking into the trap or a criminal. On top of that, booby traps are a threat to first responders like police and firefighters.
Imagine if your home caught fire while you were gone, and firefighters rushed in and tripped the booby-trap. They could be injured or killed. The bottom line is that laws in the U.S. probably won’t be on your side if you hurt or kill someone with a booby trap.