Image source: http://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/171223093746-package-deterrent-inventor-jaireme-barrow.jpg
INTRO: Jaireme Barrow said police failed to make any arrests when he offered video of people taking packages from his front porch. Instead, he invented a device called TheBlankBox that triggers a 12-gauge shotgun blank when it is lifted.
FACTS (brief, 6 sentences): Fed up with porch package thieves, an inventor in Tacoma, Washington, took action. Inventor, Jaireme Barrow said police failed to make any arrests when he offered video of people taking packages from his front porch. Instead, he invented a device called TheBlankBox that triggers a 12-gauge shotgun blank when it is lifted. However, the device appears to be illegal, according to Loretta Cool, a spokeswoman for Tacoma police. Barrow hasn’t been charged because “nobody has reported this. We have to have a victim,” Cool said. Barrow said his device is “completely safe” as long as the blanks stay in the box.
The legality of TheBlankBox (no suit yet so no complaints)
Trespass is entering another person’s property without permission of the owner or legal authority. In order to recover damages for trespass, some damage, no matter how slight, must be caused. If the trespass is with an illegal intent, it is a crime. Trespass may also be a civil wrong (tort), such as interfering with an owner or tenant’s use of the property by dumping waste or removing trees on the property.
DEFENSE OF PROPERTY
Defense of property is a justification defense by the defendant that s/he should not be held liable because the action was taken in defense of the defendant’s premises or personal property. This defense is available, if one harms or threatens another when defending one’s property. Many states have laws on this.
The law of torts allows a defendant more freedom in using physical force to protect his dwelling rather than other physical property. Trespassing refers to when an intruder enters a structure or area where he knows he is not privileged to do so.
The owner of the property must first warn the trespasser by asking him to remove himself from the property, unless the owner believes that this request would be useless or dangerous. The owner is then entitled to use force that any reasonable person would use to defend the dwelling.
Deadly force in certain states, may be used if an intruder enters the property and the owner has good reason to believe that this intruder intends to harm him or a family member within the dwelling. This deadly force can only be used if the owner believes the intruder will kill or seriously injure someone. However, deadly force can never be used to protect personal property other than a home. https://tort.laws.com/defenses-to-intentional-interference/defense-of-property
In a defense of property claim, however, the defendant’s reasonable belief is not enough – instead, the plaintiff must actually have been about to harm the defendant’s property in some way.
The requirement that the amount of force be reasonable to protect the property is complicated. First, most courts agree that deadly force cannot be used to protect property, because no amount of property damage is equal to the loss of a life. A defendant may, however, use deadly force against a person who enters his property with the intent to use deadly force against the defendant or his family, since that act would fall under self-defense or defense of others.
Next, most courts will find that the amount of force used was unreasonable, no matter how small, if a non-forceful action would have made the plaintiff leave the property. For instance, suppose that the plaintiff was trying to steal the defendant’s car when the defendant grabbed the plaintiff, pulled him out of the car, and threw him to the ground, injuring him. If the defendant could have gotten rid of the plaintiff simply by yelling at him, then the defendant’s use of force was unreasonable, and he will not be allowed to claim defense of property in court.
Whether or not some kind of force is “reasonable” also depends on what kind of force is used. For example, most courts will not allow defendants to use traps to injure trespassers, especially if the trap could be deadly. The general rule is that a property owner cannot use any kind of force in his absence that he couldn’t use if he were present. One famous case (Katko v. Briney) involved a property owner who set a “spring gun” so that it would fire at anyone who walked in the front door, likely killing them. The court held that, because the defendant would not be allowed to shoot someone who walked into his house while the defendant was home, the defendant was also not allowed to shoot someone who walked into his house while the defendant wasn’t home. Barbed-wire fences and similar implements, however, are generally permitted because their dangerous appearance deters people from trying to get onto the property in the first place, rather than surprising them with severe injury once they’ve entered. http://www.rotlaw.com/legal-library/is-defense-of-self-others-or-property-a-legal-defense/
DETAILED FACTS (tell the story):
An inventor in Tacoma, Washington, took action against package thieves. Inventor, Jaireme Barrow said police failed to make any arrests when he offered video of people taking packages from his front porch. Instead, he invented a device called TheBlankBox that triggers a 12-gauge shotgun blank when it is lifted. Barrow’s box is pretty simple — it contains a plate holding back a firing pin, connected to a string he’s tied off to his interior doorknob. When the box is pulled on hard enough, it moves the plate, allowing the firing pin to set off a 12-gauge shotgun blank.
However, the device appears to be illegal, according to Loretta Cool, a spokeswoman for Tacoma police. Barrow hasn’t been charged because “nobody has reported this. We have to have a victim,” Cool said. Barrow said his device is “completely safe” as long as the blanks stay in the box. Barrow said he’s tested the box himself “dozens of times,” even putting a tomato inside the box at one point to simulate flesh. “It never hurt me once,” he said. “It didn’t hurt the tomato in there either.
OTHER FACTS (interesting facts, related facts, trivia, etc.):
- Courts are typically more interested in punishing a trespasser than compensating a landowner. http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/law/crime-and-law-enforcement/trespass
- At common law a trespass was not criminal unless it was accomplished by violence or breached the peace. Some modern statutes make any unlawful entry onto another’s property a crime. http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/law/crime-and-law-enforcement/trespass
- http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/device_designed_to_deter_porch_package_thieves_is_illegal_and_a_lawsuit_ris (article)
- http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/business/article189724334.html (article)
TheBlankBox in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOBDFxdwo7I