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What should Bryan Smith have done when two burglars came to his house?

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/local/2014/04/29/morrison-county-jury-discussing-byron-smith-case/8465609/

Two burglars came to his house. He shot them, and they died.

The prosecutor argued that by removing trucks from the premise he is "baiting" burglars.

  1. Is it illegal to remove trucks from premises?
  2. Now that the burglars are in his house, what should he have done?

I still do not understand the verdict. I mean, do you lose your right to defend yourself if you make it look like your house is uninhabited? Are you obligated to signal to would-be burglars that you will shoot them?

In the case of Bryan Smith case, has the prosecutor established that the removal of his truck is done solely for baiting burglars?

One controversy in the case is that after he shot a burglar, he finish the job.

I do not know how much of this got into a jury. However, I would have done the same if I were him. Soldiers in wars double tap because enemies they think are death (not just injured in legs), may actually still be alive and kill. There are cases of people stop beating up robbers thinking he won, only to have the robbers' friend stab him in the back.

For all Bryan Smith knows, those teenagers could be assassins sent by gangs to kill him. The boy and the girl may bring life grenade they can activate for suicide bombing. It may not be. But how does he knows?

The probability is small. May be 1%, or 2%. Still, why should a home owner risk his life for life of two worthless burglars? The safest thing to do is to just kill the burglars.

Why take unnecessary risks when your life is in danger by some people that's obviously up to no good?

  • "has the prosecutor established..." This is the question here that matters (#1 is rather asinine and #2 may vary by jurisdiction). If it is established that the guy moved his vehicles (and maybe, but not necessarily, some other things or did something else to give an appearance of abandonment) in order to bait people into committing burglary and in reality he's waiting there or he has something set up to shoot/injure/kill them, then he is "baiting" them. So read the case? If your actual question is, "can you bait people?", answer is no. – A.fm. Feb 25 '18 at 8:37
  • Is there any statue that says that you can't lure thieves? I mean it's not like the guy ask to be burglarized. The burglar chose to burglarize his house. Does that mean that if a house look abandoned a burglar can just come knowing that even if someone is at home having a gun that guy will not have right to shoot him anyway? – user4951 Feb 25 '18 at 10:15
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    @J.Chang The court estabilished that he did indeed ask to be burglarized. He intentionally set up the situation. – gnasher729 Feb 25 '18 at 14:39
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    @J.Chang I read the additions to your post. Watch your language. It's not "double tap" - it is deliberate murder of a helpless victim. So you are telling us here that you would commit deliberate murder? At least have the courage to call it murder. Say "if I were in that situation, I would also become a murderer and rot in jail followed by rotting in hell". – gnasher729 Feb 25 '18 at 18:33
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    Because that was his explicit intent. He made his house look empty so that people would try to rob it. It's not a complicated situation and you're obfuscating the facts because of a personal bias (evident from your statements disputing the reason for the verdict and your choice of language while making such statements). – Nij Feb 26 '18 at 18:15
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If I remember the case correctly, he didn't make his home look uninhabited (that is nobody is living there) but as if the inhabitants had left (gone shopping etc.) to make it look attractive to burglars.

He then waited inside, armed with a gun, with the intent of shooting any burglars that might arrive. He shot the first burglar in the legs, and then proceeded to kill the unarmed and now defenseless burglar, who was lying injured on the ground and was in no position anymore to hurt him. He then did the same with a second burglar, shooting her in the legs, then shooting her multiple times, and when he found she was still alive, he shot her point blank in the face while she was lying on the ground.

You are asking the wrong questions. You are asking "is it illegal to remove a truck". It's not. What is illegal is to intentionally create a situation where you shoot people and try to claim "self defence". It can very well be argued that by luring burglars into your home with the intent to kill them, they are not actually illegal in that home, because you wanted them to be there. You can do many things that are each completely innocent but add up to a crime.

Actually, for everyone interested, I posted a question maybe last week or the week before whether you can be convicted for both first degree murder and second degree murder for killing a person, and it was exactly this case that inspired the question.

What should he have done? If he hadn't lured the burglars in, I believe the case would have still been a double murder, since he killed both unarmed teenagers when they were absolutely no threat. It might not have been first degree murder since it would not have been premeditated. But he intentionally lured them in, making it premeditated (first degree) murder.

If he had only injured them, the fact that he lured them in could very likely have made this an assault.

You asked: "Now that the burglars are in his house, what should he have done? " Well, he got himself into a dangerous situation. Remember, he was convicted for premeditated murder. So just before he shot the girl in the head, he should have instead put the gun away and called police and an ambulance. It would have been one murder instead of two. Just before he shot the boy, he should have put the gun away and called police and an ambulance. It would have been just attempted murder. When he heard the first person entering, he should have called the police and waited. When the burglar came in sight, he should not have shot and injured him.

It's a similar question to "if I try a bank robbery and there is an armed guard, what should I do". The only legal thing to do is to drop your weapon and wait to be arrested.

If an armed burglar had appeared instead of two unarmed teens, well, he would have put himself into a dangerous situation. Just as the burglar would have no right to shoot even if a home owner points a weapon at him, he had no right to shoot, no right to self defense, since he had intentionally created the situation. Tough shit. That's what you may get if you plan a murder.

Responding to some comments: @J.Chang Are you being serious? You are not allowed to make your house inviting to burglars, while waiting inside with the intent of killing them. Self defense only applies when a reasonable person would believe they are in danger. Reasonable persons don't think that a burglar comes in with the intent of blowing themselves up and taking the home owner with them. And no, you don't get to "assume the worst". Not when the worst is something no reasonable person would expect.

Thanks to Dale for pointing out that even for soldiers in a war situation, where different rules apply, deliberately killing a helpless enemy combatant is murder.

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    After reading the article closer, I note that I don't think this case turns as much on the luring people situation as I had thought. It's the premeditation instead. That said, even if he hadn't lured them, if the facts were otherwise the same, it likely would have been premeditated. Premeditation does not take a certain amount of time to develop. The fact he shot them in the legs and made the decision to continue and kill both would likely be enough. – A.fm. Feb 25 '18 at 13:59
  • Even if you have shot someone in the leg, doesn't mean he is harmless. It is possible that the guy is armed with explosives and intent to die with you. You got to presume the worst. There is a case of a martial artist that beat up robber. He stop because he think he won. Turns out the robbers have friends that have a knife that simply kill the guy. Soldiers in wars would double tap enemies. Why should unprofessional people risk his life for the sake of burglars? If I were him, I would "double tap". – user4951 Feb 25 '18 at 17:51
  • Are you obligated to notify everyone that you're in the house for your right to self defense to work? – user4951 Feb 25 '18 at 17:56
  • @J.Chang Soldiers in ward operate under different laws than civilians at home – Dale M Feb 25 '18 at 22:02
  • @J.Chang also, a soldier deliberately killing a helpless enemy combatant is also committing murder – Dale M Feb 25 '18 at 23:04
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No, you can't lure people into your home with the intent of killing, shooting, whatever, them. For the seminal case on setting traps for people, see Katko v. Briney where a guy was found liable for battery when a trespasser set off a spring gun that had been set in an abandoned house to "catch" burglars and the trespasser was severely injured.

For a more recent version, where a man left his garage door open to tempt a person who he suspected had stolen from him, then was waiting and shot the kid when he came by, see the story of Markus Kaarma and his conviction for homicide.

Nothing about moving trucks is or random houses that simply "look abandoned" has any meaning here, further than the truck-moving thing actually tended to show that the homeowner took deliberate steps to falsely portray a situation in order to take his intended action against those who he expected to act as a result of that false portrayal.

Addendum:

Instead of the above being as relevant as I thought it was, that the case turned more on the premeditation fact of the shooter. The luring of the victims is important in that it tends to demonstrate the shooter's intent.

This is really about intent. So, Bryan Smith, just like the defendant in Katko v. Briney, which I cited above, was found liable because of his criminal intent - his plan to do what he did. See this passage from Katko:

On the other hand, where the intruder may pose a danger to the inhabitants of a dwelling, the privilege of using such a device to repel has been recognized by most authorities, and the mere setting thereof in the dwelling has not been held to create liability for an injury as a matter of law. In such cases intent and the reasonableness of the force would seem relevant to liability.

Although I am aware of the often-repeated statement that personal rights are more important than property rights, where the owner has stored his valuables representing his life's accumulations, his livelihood business, his tools and implements, and his treasured antiques as appears in the case at bar, and where the evidence is sufficient to sustain a finding that the installation was intended only as a warning to ward off thieves and criminals, I can see no compelling reason why the use of such a device alone would create liability as a matter of law.

  • Kato v. Briney doesn't seem to discuss luring people, just levels of force appropriate for the defense of an unoccupied building. It is unclear if the decision would be the same if you set traps to defend your home while you were there. It is not the same as the Kaarma case at all which shows intent to make the house more attractive to burglars. – Matt Feb 25 '18 at 14:01
  • @Matt, read the case, man. That's exactly what it is about. It's totally clear and they are not the "same" - nobody said anything about being the same - but they are analagous. – A.fm. Feb 25 '18 at 14:06
  • The primary issue presented here is whether an owner may protect personal property in an unoccupied boarded-up farm house against trespassers and thieves by a spring gun capable of inflicting death or serious injury. We are not here concerned with a man's right to protect his home and members of his family. I don't see anything about luring people. In fact, the no trespassing signs were put up. That's kind of the opposite of luring. It shows that a previously abandoned place is now less abandoned. – Matt Feb 25 '18 at 14:11
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    @Matt re: force: The overwhelming weight of authority, both textbook and case law, supports the trial court's statement of the applicable principles of law. Prosser on Torts, Third Edition, pages 116-118, states: "the law has always placed a higher value upon human safety than upon mere rights in property, it is the accepted rule that there is no privilege to use any force calculated to cause death or serious bodily injury to repel the threat to land or chattels, unless there is also such a threat to the defendant's personal safety as to justify a self-defense. spring guns and other mankil.. – A.fm. Feb 25 '18 at 14:40
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    @Matt stop trolling. If you read any of the above, you'll note I explicitly stated this is about intent of the homeowner rather than about luring people, but luring people is key to show the intent. You aren't even making a point now. This is the seminal case on not having traps set up. There are many others. And the Kaarma case, among others, speaks to the luring issue more directly. Nothing about them has to be the "same" for them both to be relevant to the Bryan Smith episode. – A.fm. Feb 25 '18 at 14:42
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Under Minnesota law:

The intentional taking of the life of another is not authorized by section 609.06, except when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor's place of abode.

He was preventing a felony in his place of abode, and perhaps reasonably believed he was exposed to great bodily harm or death, when he shot them. But not when he shot them again.

You talk about a tiny chance, but the law requires a "reasonable" belief. It is not reasonable to believe that the burglars have grenades, or that they are assassins, if you know that they don't think you're home.

You talk about soldiers in war, but if you go around shooting incapacitated enemy wounded in a war, you're guilty of a war crime.

And I know this case was in Minnesota, but under Wisconsin law:

A person who provokes an attack, whether by lawful or unlawful conduct, with intent to use such an attack as an excuse to cause death or great bodily harm to his or her assailant is not entitled to claim the privilege of self-defense.

I think it's clear by his actions that he intended to provoke a burglary so he could shoot the burglars. There's no other explanation for moving his truck and then lying in wait in the basement with two guns while rehearsing a request for a lawyer.

  • By that definition, a girl with sexy clothes, cannot claim self defense because prosecutors can argue that the girls provoke an attack on her self. – user4951 Feb 26 '18 at 15:08
  • Provocation means attacking first, or insulting. This guy is just moving his truck. – user4951 Feb 26 '18 at 15:08
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    @J.Chang Only if she dressed that way with the intent that she be attacked. The law specifies that conduct which is otherwise lawful counts; it's the intent that matters. – D M Feb 26 '18 at 18:24
  • Wow. Just wow. No wonder girls are protesting. – user4951 Feb 27 '18 at 17:25

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