No. In short, to answer the question, is it legal to booby trap your house? No. In states across the country, courts are finding people guilty, sending people to prison, and refusing to honor plea agreements for people who booby trap their houses and end up killing someone.
Let’s say your house has been repeatedly broken into. Several of your expensive items have been stolen, a car has been stolen from your garage, and you are fed up. What can you do? It is outrageous that you should have to sit and do nothing while people repeatedly steal from you.
The police can’t do anything because no one has been caught in the act, and they don’t have any evidence. You can’t be home all hours of the day to ensure that no one ever robs you. You have a job, a life, and you’re not a hermit.
Your solution then, you figure, is to booby trap around your house. You research how to make traps at home for fun. Your rig a line of bottle along your window sills, with open space on the hard floor in front of them. An intruder breaks in a window and “crash!” go the bottles. Revenge is sweet.
You set a bucket of tar above your doorways, balanced on a plank and attached to your door. As the door swings open, the bucket is tipped, tarring whoever breaks into your house. No harm, no foul, right? It’s not like anyone would get seriously hurt.
To the extreme, you’re fed up, you cannot take it anymore, and maybe you even live in a stand your ground state, where it is legal to kill someone whom you deem may harm you. You set up a shotgun or a knife on a trigger facing your door. Someone breaks in while you’re away, and “blast!” intruder down, likely dead. Not your problem, right?
Wrong. You are absolutely criminally liable for any damage to any person in your house.
You may get off completely cleanly if you were to end up killing an intruder who broke into your house with you in it. There is a clear case for you to make that you feared for your life, feared for your safety.
You simply and plainly cannot make this argument if no one is at home. In all 50 states it is illegal to kill someone for potentially stealing your property.
Case after case across the country and even out of the country, judges find booby trappers guilty, and often judge harshly, when a person has been harmed or killed. The issue, they say, is one of thought crimes.
Upon entering your house, the only thing the person can be found guilty of is breaking and entering, and we have no idea why the person is entering your home. If the person is now dead from your booby trap, we will never know.
If we as a society of laws have decided that we are not even going to arrest and charge people before they commit crimes, we certainly are not going to allow people to kill someone before a crime is committed.
It isn’t fair, obviously. Someone breaking in is probably intending to rob you; perhaps he or she is indeed even a violent criminal. But we have agreed that we do not want to live in a lawless country with vigilante justice. Booby traps make you a vigilante.
What you can do is set up cameras. With photographic evidence, the police have a much better chance of making an arrest, and the courts will be more likely to prosecute. You could also invest in an actual security system; you could even do it yourself. Criminals target homes without alarms. Find a cheap security system with a really loud alarm.
If you can’t afford cameras and security systems, which can get very pricey, you can invest in the oldest deterrent in history. Get a dog. Heck, get a couple of dogs. No one wants to mess with a couple of big dogs with big barks.
Stay out of jail. Don’t kill anyone. Do not booby trap your house unless you are doing it for fun to catch your kids getting into the cookie jar. Oreos can be expensive these days.
Even the most harmless seeming booby trap could end up killing someone. Your bucket of tar may entirely fall down, break someone’s neck, and now you’re up river for a couple of years, doing time for manslaughter.
Do yourself a favor, save up your money, invest in cameras, a security system, and two dogs. You will never be robbed again, and you won’t have to learn to make friends with your new cellmate, Bubba.