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How Setting a Booby Trap Is Considered a Forcible Felony

In Illinois, robbery, burglary, and larceny-theft account for around 82% of crimes committed in the state. People looking to deter offenses and protect their property might employ different security methods, such as installing surveillance cameras, putting up fences, or getting a couple of big dogs. But one Downstate man used a less conventional approach to keep people from breaking into his woodshed: He set up a booby trap, which cost him his freedom.

The man’s booby trap consisted of a shotgun attached to the door of his shed. If somebody entered the structure, a wire would pull the trigger and fire the gun. Unfortunately, someone did try to break into the shed while the booby trap was rigged, and he was killed. The Downstate man was charged and convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated battery, both forcible felonies.

But why would he be charged with crimes for protecting his home? Shouldn’t his actions be considered defense under the “castle doctrine,” as someone else was breaking into his property? Not necessarily.

What Is the Castle Doctrine?

At its most basic, the “castle doctrine” states that a person can use force against someone who is breaking into or planning on attacking their property.

The use of force in defense of a dwelling law also states that a person can use deadly force if:

  • The individual who is trying to enter the home does so in a violent manner, and force is necessary to protect the owner or others inside from harm; or
  • The trespasser is likely to commit a felony inside the dwelling, and force is needed to stop them

Looking at the definitions under statute 720 ILCS 5/7-2, it would appear that the Downstate man was justified in setting up his booby trap to stop the other person from breaking into his shed. However, it’s the manner in which he carried out the act that resulted in criminal charges being filed against him.

Putting the Lives of Others at Risk

Let’s say the Downstate man heard someone trying to get into his shed, and that person had intended to commit a felony while there. If the man grabbed his shotgun and fired at the intruder, he could use the dwelling defense if he was charged with and tried for murder.

So how is that different from setting a booby trap?

Using force on a particular intruder could be considered legal. However, when a person sets up a booby trap, they’re putting the lives of anyone entering the property at risk. For example, say the homeowner’s nephew goes over to help out in the yard. Needing a shovel, he walks into the shed. The booby trap is set up, and the boy is killed.

Because others can enter someone else’s property without criminal intent, the law views setting up a booby trap as going beyond defense and into endangering the lives of others.

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