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Let me start by saying that I'm not a US citizen nor living in the US (I live in a country where guns are illegal), and I'm not familiar with the difference between the gun laws in different states. However, I've read multiple cases in which someone knocked the wrong door and got shot by the homeowners. In some of these cases, the shooters were even acquitted, such as the Killing of Yoshihiro Hattori.

Suppose I invited someone into my house in US. Instead of giving my correct address to them, I deliberately gave them the address of my neighbour, tricking them to knock the wrong door. My neighbour thought they were trespassing and took out a gun and shot them to death.

Consider the following two possibilities:

  1. I knew my neighbour had a gun and I deliberately tricked them to knock the wrong door with the hope that my neighbour would shoot them to death.
  2. I didn't know my neighbour had a gun and I just wanted to play a prick on them, assuming them to leave safely after discovering they knocked the wrong door.

In either case, my neighbour did shoot them to death.

Now, what crime did I commit respectively in the two cases?

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    What you hear in the news, especially foreign media, is almost always inaccurate. You can't shoot somebody for knocking on the door alone. You can shoot people, in some states under certain conditions, for using force to gain entry, e.g. kicking down the door.
    – user71659
    Commented Apr 17 at 17:46
  • @user71659 In the case I quoted, Yoshihiro Hattori didn't use any force but the homeowner still shot him and was later acquitted in the court.
    – user141240
    Commented Apr 17 at 17:50
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    Because it centered around actions not related to the door, his movements outside. This is detailed in the Wikipedia article.
    – user71659
    Commented Apr 17 at 17:52
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    ...and at a civil trial he was found liable for Hattori's death. Commented Apr 17 at 17:59
  • while your neighbor may not be able to lawfully shoot someone, recent events in the US include the killing of an uber driver who was caught up in a scam. cnn.com/2024/04/16/us/ohio-uber-driver-murder-charge/index.html
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Apr 17 at 18:05

1 Answer 1

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I didn't know my neighbour had a gun and I just wanted to play a prick on them, assuming them to leave safely after discovering they knocked the wrong door.

This is clearly not a crime and probably not even a civil wrong (i.e. a tort) that could be the basis for a lawsuit. There is no foreseeable harm and no intent to harm. And a reasonable person would not expect that knocking on the wrong person's door would cause someone to be shot, in the absence to knowledge suggesting that this would be likely.

I knew my neighbour had a gun and I deliberately tricked them to knock the wrong door with the hope that my neighbour would shoot them to death.

This is a harder case. Generally speaking, a neighbor murdering or attempting to murder someone would be an intervening cause that would wipe away anyone else's responsibility (and in this situation, it would almost certainly be murder for the neighbor to shoot the person).

It might give rise to civil liability, although exact what legal theory would make the most sense in that situation isn't entirely clear, maybe prima facie tort or common law fraud.

Whether it was a crime is a hard call. The necessary intent is present, but it isn't obvious to me that the act sufficiently caused the crime, beyond a reasonable doubt, which would be necessary for it to give rise to criminal liability. It would be "but for" causation, but if the result isn't reasonably foreseeable, there isn't criminal liability.

Reasonably foreseeing that the neighbor will murder someone who knocks on their door would be a very hard thing to prove absent some really extreme facts that aren't necessarily implied by the question.

It would not be sufficient to know that the neighbor has a gun, because all other things being equal, people are entitled to assume that other people will obey the law (or at least, that they won't murder someone), even if the other people own guns.

You would have to know not just that the neighbor had a gun, but that the neighbor had a gun and was very likely to use it unlawfully to murder your friend if your friend knocked on his door.

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  • Would a "Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again." sign count as sufficient knowledge?
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 19 at 3:51
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    @Mark shooting a wounded person who cannot harm you is going to be a hard sell in self-defence, defence. There is no law that makes it legal to shoot a person just because he has entered your property. All the same issues regarding self-defence, and defences still apply,
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Apr 19 at 16:52
  • It seems a bit like casting a hex on somebody with the hope that they contract a disease and die. If they subsequently die of a disease, a successful prosecution would depend on the prosecutor convincing a jury that you knew or should reasonably have known that your hex would be effective.
    – kaya3
    Commented Apr 20 at 14:10

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