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Inspired by this question: Suppose I'm paranoid (perhaps justifiably) that law enforcemen might conduct a warranted raid of my property. So I setup booby-traps that are designed to either:

A. Destroy any evidence I think they might look for, or, more extremely,

B. Destroy the property and anyone on it in the event that it is raided.

We know from here and here that I owe trespassers some duty of care. Being an (otherwise) law-abiding citizen, I post explicit warnings within the perimeter of my property, which I have secured against trespass by anybody but a very determined attacker. I.e., the only way the police could see the warnings is if they have entered for a raid, at which point the warnings state, "If you go any further into this property you will trigger devices that will destroy the property and kill all persons therein."

Sure enough, the police get a no-knock search warrant, breach the outer perimeter, and stop at the warnings. At this point can I be compelled by a court to grant safe access for law enforcement to carry out the search warrant?

And if, despite the clear warning, the police decide to press on with their search and an officer is injured or killed, can I be held criminally or civilly liable for that casualty?


Notes & clarifications from comments:

  • I'm revealing my mens rea in this question, but objectively I have merely secured the property and warned determined trespassers. The police can lawfully search, but do I have a duty to make my premises safe to search? Am I ex ante liable for their injuries, given the suitable warning? Or can they say, "If you don't make it safe to search, you're liable for our injuries?" At which point haven't they compelled me to incriminate myself, meaning that I can disarm the traps but all the premises' contents are then "poisoned" evidence?
  • Practically speaking it's not hard to rig thermite to destroy evidence without endangering anyone not in close proximity. But then, destruction of evidence is a crime, and I'd rather not destroy my valuable stash of whatever. Or, again, maybe I don't have anything to hide but on principle I really don't want police in my house. So part of the motivation here is to determine: can one construct a scenario that would flat-out deter the search?
  • One analogy that might illuminate this is to consider a hazmat factory: It is secured, it has warnings, and if police barge in and start tossing things without adequate protection they could be injured or killed. So in real life – even just approaching suspected meth labs – the police bring in hazmat specialists. They don't say, "Please render your lab safe for us to search," and I don't think they say, "We got hurt raiding your lab, so that's on you." In this hypothetical there is no specialist they can call because the exact threat is unknown, and designed to be unknowable in advance. In fact, I could just be bluffing and not have any boobytraps.
  • Another reference point that occurs to me: when police are confronted with non-trivial explosive devices, whenever possible it seems they prefer to just clear a safety perimeter and destroy the device than to try to approach and disarm it.
  • One last point of reference I came across: There is one such example in existence in the U.S.: Fugitive John Joe Gray has kept police from entering his property to arrest him for 16 years, simply because no sheriff has considered it worth the risk.
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    I'm pretty sure that by making such devices, you'd ipso facto be in violation of terrorism statutes. – Nate Eldredge Sep 25 '15 at 0:17
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    @feetwet It's at least conceivable you'd face murder charges if an officer dies. Since the penalties for murder are somewhat higher than the penalties for contempt of court, I doubt a real criminal would be swayed by a court order when they're willing to risk murder charges. Police departments really handle these situations with bomb squads, not court orders. – cpast Sep 25 '15 at 6:46
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    @feetwet I'm not sure what you mean by "no one against whom they can escalate." A trapped property is a serious risk to the public (including emergency responders who might need to respond to an incident there); even if it weren't, police have a warrant, so are quite entitled to do whatever is necessary to allow the search. Honestly, I don't think they'd trust you to help, given that you intended to possibly kill police with it. And the bomb squad is really trained as a more general "hazardous device squad." – cpast Sep 25 '15 at 14:16
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    And just to be clear: The government can never compel you to help with anything. They can only punish you for refusing to help. But the punishment for a deadly device going off and killing a cop during a lawful search, where the device was intended to kill the cop, is generally either life in prison or death. The punishment for not helping when a court tells you to is being jailed for a while. Someone not deterred by the former isn't very likely to be deterred by the latter. – cpast Sep 25 '15 at 14:18
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    Found it: Donald Lee Morse - Granted, he didn't post warning signs, but the danger involved in proceeding should have had become obvious by the time bomb squad was called. – JimmyB Jul 19 '16 at 9:29
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+300

First off, you cannot booby trap your property, period. It is both illegal and tortious. But, as you noted, there are already questions/answers that deal with this issue.

Sure enough, if the police get a no-knock search warrant, that in and of itself is the Court order allowing entry by any means necessary. When the officers, there by right of law, breach the outer perimeter and stop at the warnings, they will not be seeking any other court orders to have you allow them "safe entry". Their warrant gives them all the right they need, as probable cause of crime and violent intent or intent to destroy evidence was already presented to a judge. If, in real life, you actually put up signage or state explicitly that they're being forewarned that you intend to harm, trap, maim, or otherwise make it unsafe to enter; or that doing so will result in an attempt to destroy evidence, that is something they have already assumed (hence the seeking and granting of the no-knock vs. a regular search warrant). However, the signs in and of themselves are not protected speech, but rather overt threats, and that would put you in a very precarious position indeed.

If the police get a "no knock" warrant (the most invasive, difficult to get warrants, whereby there is a grave risk of destruction of evidence or injury to persons), the police will ensure they have safe passage – they've come prepared for dangerous entry long before your signs, but once they see them, you could rest assured they will take them as they are intended: as a direct threat to their safety, and they will deploy a SWAT or other heavily armed entry team (who is usually there anyway for these dangerous entries). You could expect things like smoke/out canister and teargas, flash bangs, and heavily armed and well armored officers attempting to force you from your dwelling. Presumably, if you need to disarm traps to escape the situation, they can enter. Assuming you're home when they invade with chemical weapons, whether you come out or not, they will force you to disarm whatever booby trapping you may have in place that may destroy evidence, likely walking you in as their human shield in the event you're lying about any dangerous ones. That is probably your best case scenario. They may just decide to throw you through the perimeter once they get their hands on you, just to see what happens!

If you don't exit and are home or if you are lucky enough to be out, the bomb squad, ATF, and SWAT will converge on your property in less than typical means. Because from your warning they can assume some incendiary or explosive device exists, bringing it into the jurisdiction of other agencies. If they cannot disarm the trap, they would send a robot in first to set it off, or cut through your roof, or knock down a wall – whatever it takes to get in without using a typical means of ingress/egress, so as not to chance your trap. Regardless, you can rest assured that they will get in, and you will pay for the trap you set for law enforcement. Further, to whatever charges you'd have been faced with from evidence flowing from the original warrant will now be added additional charges like attempted murder of a peace officer; if you have any roommates or known associates: conspiracy to do those things; attempted destruction of evidence, criminal interference with a police investigation ... all at a minimum. If anyone is actually harmed, your signage offers you no shield from criminal or tort liability, and you will be lucky to live through the experience once they get their hands on you. Police tend to not like being the targets of intentional maiming, dismemberment or death.

You have to understand that, according to this hypothetical, you are intentionally trying to harm law enforcement, or destroy evidence of your dangerous criminal activity. These are not invaders, or intruders according to the law; they are the people whose job it is to enforce the laws, collect the evidence (if you weren't getting arrested pursuant to the fruits of the warrant, you certainly would be at that point). The signs themselves would make excellent exhibits in the coming case of State v. you.

BTW: The only reason they have left John Joe Gray alone is that he knows the Henderson County Sheriff Ronny Brownlow, who has been told that the ATF, FBI, and State SWAT, would all be happy to enter and get or kill Mr. Gray if need be. Since the Sheriff never filed any federal charges, and has determined that he doesn't want to breach (and it's in his jurisdiction to determine this), the Sheriff, aware that Gray's entire family is holed up in the "compound", decided it's not worth going in. It's as well known as it is anomalous. When the police want in, and have the right to get in, they will get in. That Sheriff just decided it's not worthwhile.

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    So the short version of this answer sounds like: You effectively have neither rights nor immunities if you threaten to or actually put a trap in the path of government agents armed with a warrant. – feetwet Oct 7 '15 at 22:02
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    Now can I trouble you to address the sub-scenario in which I post warnings, and maybe even place fake traps inside my property, but they are all a ruse? E.g., if the cops get all exercised but it turns out I didn't place any real traps, could I face any legal liability? (I understand that practically both I and my property would probably be mutilated to the greatest extent possible by the police in such a case. But must we comport our lives as if we are subject to invasive government raids at any moment, or can we mock up the private areas of our property without regard for that?) – feetwet Oct 7 '15 at 22:43
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    Well, there is no liability per se if it's not real, but the same analysis holds. If you get someone hurt in an attempt to evade those fake measures.... You will be liable criminally and tortiously because that speech is not protected. It's really no different where they are placed... Because they've got the right to enter. Also, when your house ends up destroyed trying to evade things that don't exist, or if you are hurt in the melee, you have no basis for recompense. – gracey209 Oct 9 '15 at 19:40
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    That's why this is a (bit convoluted) hypo:-) Mens rea, or guilty mind, is a ghost, or a shadow... Your putting them up signifies you had the mens rea and nobody would ever believe they're for your amusement bc that is just not believable. You saying, after the fact, that you never intended anyone to get hurt, would be laughable. Your word that you never intended they be seen would be weighed against the damage they caused, and no jury would believe you. If you can see them, you must assume others may too... Just like you said mistakes happen and people enter places unintended. – gracey209 Oct 9 '15 at 20:19
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    @gracey209 "They may just decide to throw you through the perimeter once they get their hands on you, just to see what happens!"... I'm not from the US, but I've never heard something like this. Is it really possible? And should you die, wouldn't the police officers be liable, at least for manslaughter? – A. Darwin Mar 30 '16 at 12:42
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...the police decide to press on with their search and an officer is injured or killed, can I be held criminally or civilly liable for that casualty?

I didn't read through all of your links so I'll just say - generally speaking you cannot use deadly force to protect unoccupied property, the law finds it neither justified nor reasonable.

Katko v. Briney, 183 N.W.2d 657 (Iowa 1971) is a pretty famous case where a guy set a spring gun on some abandoned property. The device was a shotgun set to fire at the legs of a trespasser. It worked. Trespasser sued landowning spring-gunner and won. Iowa Supreme Court said that landowner would've been justified using the shotgun himself if he had been home.

So there you go - traps lead to civil suits.

Now, if you're Fred from Scooby Doo and you just like setting fun traps on your own private property, you use all sorts of signage to warn people, and someone dies on your punji stick trampoline I don't really know what result. But in your facts the dangers you've created are intentional and serve no reasonable purpose. You are wanton and reckless and display 100% disregard of the safety of others. The willful and intentional wrong is not going to play in certain jurisdictions where common law is friendly to trespassers.

Regarding the crime stuff, I'm assuming the cops have you already because your facts offer a court order as an option. What they do when they get to the signs is send in a robot to either gather evidence or set off the deadly traps. Either way you're going to jail.

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    In the hypothetical the only persons who could encounter the dangers would be warranted agents. This isn't about "traps that could injure unsuspecting trespassers." This is, "Fine, you got a warrant. If you try to execute it, I'm warning you that any evidence you're searching for will be destroyed and you could die in the process." Only I know how. In this case can a court compel me to do anything to facilitate a safe and successful execution of a warrant against my property? And if the agents proceed despite that clear warning what liability do I face and under what theories? – feetwet Sep 25 '15 at 4:09
  • @feetwet how about start by telling us what your defense will be against premeditated murder charges. You know the cops are coming so you set traps to kill them. – jqning Sep 25 '15 at 4:14
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    @feetwet People have been charged with assault and murder for setting traps. But with cops, there is an added issue: cops aren't trespassers. They are legally on the property, and it is illegal to use force to prevent their entry. – cpast Sep 27 '15 at 19:03
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    @feetwet presumably you can secure your premises however you want. No. You can't. – jqning Sep 27 '15 at 23:05
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    @jqning - I think the U.S. government set the upper limit for passive security on its nuclear weapon sites. Nowhere is anything resembling a "weapon" employed. It's just layers of steel, cement, and earth. ("Active" security, when present, takes the form of a guard detail.) Other than maybe zoning and fire codes I can't come up with any idea of how "hardening" or "passive security" might break any law. – feetwet Oct 4 '15 at 18:06
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Preface: IANAL.

Having said that, doing anything to inhibit a lawful police investigation is considered obstruction of justice and is a crime. If you know you are under arrest, I imagine they can then have you charged with eluding police or resisting arrest.

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  • That only tangentially addresses the question. They have a search warrant, not an arrest warrant, presumably because they need to find evidence to get an arrest warrant. So once I say, "You'll destroy any evidence -- and probably die -- if you try to search my premises," what can they do? (And note that I haven't specified how the house is trapped, so unless they proceed they don't even have evidence that I have boobytrapped it. All they have is a warning.) – feetwet Sep 25 '15 at 1:20
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    That is an interesting comment. If police has a search warrant, and you destroy something, are you in violation of the law even if they cannot reasonably prove that what you destroyed is pertinent to the investigation (.. also known as the HIllary effect). ? – Will I Am Sep 25 '15 at 19:38
  • @feetwet: If they are executing a search warrant, they can presumably arrest you for interfering with a lawful investigation. The exact offense may not technically be called "interfering with a lawful investigation", though. It may be called "obstruction of justice". That's the minimum, I would think. They could probably tack on additional charges if any of the traps in question is designed to harm an officer. – moonman239 Oct 31 '15 at 23:41
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You can legally booby-trap your property as long as those booby-traps don't hurt anybody. An example would be a sensor that detected your door being broke down that ignites an incendiary device inside of a fire proof safe. To protect your computers, use magnesium strips. It burns very hot, but doesn't explode. Gun powder in small amounts that has space around it to flare up, burns very hot, but doesn't explode. For drugs, build something where they somehow get flushed down the toilet if the bathroom door is forced open without unlocking it. You need to make sure that 1. Nobody gets hurt. 2. Any illegal evidence is 100% destroyed. No residue. 3. Don't discuss the booby-trap with anybody. Think small and unobtrusive so nobody knows your booby-trap went off. Please don't think about revenge. Concentrate on saving your butt. I'm posting this answer hoping to save the lives of innocent police officers just doing their jobs. Can't we all just get along? Stop the violence. Peace out. :)

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    Yeah, a thermite rig is practically adequate to the "destruction of evidence" purpose, and unlikely to injure anyone not in very close proximity. But the "question that inspired this" was already along those lines, so then I was wondering if I could flat-out deter the search so I don't have to destroy my valuable stash of whatever. NB: I don't think you can legally destroy evidence (see referenced Q&A). – feetwet Sep 27 '15 at 21:36
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    BTW, I was posting this question hoping to save the freedom and property of innocent citizens from unforgiving and one-sided assault by the police state ;) – feetwet Sep 27 '15 at 23:51
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2010 Arkansas Code

Title 5 - Criminal Offenses

Subtitle 6 - Offenses Against Public Health, Safety, Or Welfare

Chapter 73 - Weapons

Subchapter 1 - Possession and Use Generally

§ 5-73-126 - Booby traps.

5-73-126. Booby traps.

(a) It is unlawful for any person to install or maintain a booby trap upon his or her own property or any other person's property.

(b As used in this section, "booby trap" means a device designed to cause death or serious physical injury to a person.

(c) Any person who pleads guilty or nolo contendere or who is found guilty of violating this section is guilty of a Class D felony.

law.justia.com

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  • Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go directly to jail, guilty of a Class D felony. – Mazura May 19 at 12:14
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People have covered the harm-to-people booby trapping at length, and that one's pretty straightforward anyway. I'm going to focus on another area:

Destruction of documents

I worked for a Big-Data firm when the Sarbanes-Oxley Act landed.

So I setup booby-traps that are designed to either:

A. Destroy any evidence I think they might look for,

What they're going to look for here is why you are destroying the data. If you set it up for the purpose of keeping it away from law enforcement, that is prima facie illegal, you are correct. And this is the dilemma faced by corporations as Sarbanes-Oxley passed. But what if you destroy data for another purpose?

The answer is, yes, that is allowed – but it must look, walk and quack like a reasonable, legitimate purpose that isn't just a sham to cause the side-effect of denying it to law enforcement.

An example: Time-aged deletion

For instance the FBI grabs my computer and says, "Oooh, you deleted your browser history!" And then I say, "Look in my crontab." They find a perl script that goes through the library/registry and deletes all browser history. There's that smoking gun! Gotcha! Oh, wait. The script was created in 2004, last modified in 2015, and is flagged to run nightly. The last change to the crontab file is 17 months ago. Other browser settings are set to delete or not store cookies, and those config files have a last-change date 5 months ago. That paints a completely different picture: of ordinary privacy best-practices to override the default (promiscuous) behavior of browsers, and this person did not change those habits lately. This has nothing to do with the police investigation.

That is exactly what corporations figured out after contemplating the meaning of Sarbanes-Oxley. They realized that if you had a parade of people in FBI jackets hauling Bankers Boxes out of your building, it did not help your case if some of those boxes were labeled 1974, where now they're searching for misdeeds of three managements prior to yours. This is where data retention policies entered the picture. If you burned all files prior to 2014 as the FBI was pulling up, that was a felony. But if you had a policy to routinely destroy files over 6 years old, and that policy was in place and acted upon long before any legal inquiry, then you were in the clear.

Another example: event-triggered deletion

Practically speaking it's not hard to rig thermite to destroy evidence without endangering anyone not in close proximity. But then, destruction of evidence is a crime...

So far, I've only talked about time/age. But a reasonable reason for other destruction is also routine non-police threats. Say you have a significant hoard of Bitcoins (that is, strings of cryptographic data that act like money to the first person who uses it). Your master store is on a laptop, in a safe, in a cave, on the moon at a secure Iron Mountain facility that happens to be in a non-extradition state.

However you keep your daily working copy on a thumb drive in a self-destruct-rigged fire safe – an electrical signal destroys it safely. You have this rigged to destroy on any intrusion, and documents outside the safe show that you have made an (accurate) risk assessment that you're a target for thieves who may know you have a lot of Bitcoin, and the trap is clearly focused on intruders. The police set it off by accident. Again you are in the clear for "document destruction", since you can show you didn't destroy it to evade authorities, you destroyed it to deny it to thieves and thus retain control of your Bitcoin.

They'll still charge you (why not?) but you'll easily defend

Naturally, the police investigators will only think about themselves. They will assume correlation is causality, and "You rigged it to destroy because you saw us coming". You will point out that the protection systems are years old, and they will retort that you saw them coming years ago because that's when you planned to commit crimes.

This is where you defend that your defenses are perfectly reasonable for a law-abiding citizen in your position. That's easy for the corporate deletion policy; you simply explain that storing old records is unprofitable, and absent any expected litigation, why do so?

In the case of Bitcoin, you'd need to overcome the prosecution's propaganda that only criminals use Bitcoin and that your backup copy being in a non-extradition state means something: and show that you had perfectly ordinary and legitimate reasons to use it.

The Hazmat factory

One analogy that might illuminate this is to consider a hazmat factory: It is secured, it has warnings, and if police barge in and start tossing things without adequate protection they could be injured or killed.

That's a different deal. You intersect with a bajillion safety, OSHA, UL, various Codes, permitting, licensing and inspection issues, almost anytime you have plant that is not inherently safe.

The problem is, this safety dance is a 2-part dance. The cops have an obligation to be careful, sensible and not defeat the safety protections that Code calls for, i.e. if they see a "Danger Confined Space" sign they are expected to go find out what that means before charging in there and having this happen.

But the other side of the coin is, you are obligated to make a reasonable effort to comply with Code and safety standard practices. That sign had better be there, unless it's a hazard which is obvious to anyone in the trade. If they insist on going into a ballast tank on your ship or a thing that is obviously a grain silo... well yeah, that's on them. It's not a booby trap for obviously-dangerous things to be dangerous.

On the other hand, you may have less formal or unpermitted stuff – homebrew biodiesel refineries for 20 gallon batches are common enough, jury-rigged out of hot water heaters and settling tanks. You don't need to pull a permit for a thing like that, but you should be following normal safety standards.

If an incident happens, it'll get treated as an industrial accident – and the liability and consequences will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If a cop gets shocked by wiring in your biodiesel setup, they'll go straight to the Electrical Codes: was it a goobed-up mishmash of draped wires that the officer tripped over... or had the officer on the hunt for meth, opened up an obvious electrical box and found exactly what it says on the tin, which was nothing, but in electrical, "nothing" means "up to 600V."

Act like a desperado, get treated like one.

[to the meth lab] They don't say, "Please render your lab safe for us to search," and I don't think they say, "We got hurt raiding your lab, so that's on you."

The second one, I cover above. the vast, vast majority of meth labs are hinkle-dinkle safety fiascoes, where the lab is mortally dangerous to the operator nevermind the police. In that case, yeah, the operator is liable for any casualty.

But the cops raiding Gus Fring's lab would know to expect a tip-top, button-up operation where there might be booby traps, but at least the lab equipment isn't going to kill them. Let's think about that reputation thing.

Obviously in a nuclear power plant, they don't give licenses to cheeseheads. Cops can expect on-site security to act lawfully, and that any resistance to their demands will be reasonable and appropriate for the safety of community, plant, workers and police. So when they ask to see the reactor core, security contacts the control room, the control room says "unable" and security explains the danger, and everyone treats that as reasonable. If special access arrangements need to be made, the police, power grid operators and plant management have a sit-down and figure out how to approach that safely without blacking out 5 states or irradiating 3 counties. That is possible when you have actors with a reputation for reasonability.

Contrast with the lone wing-nut you mentioned, who is merely presumed to have set all manner of booby traps, and the sheriff presumes a raid will result in casualty. That person's reputation didn't get that way on its own.

The hypothetical "you" in this question is cavalier and indifferent about intent to maim on purpose. Assuming that "your" public mannerisms are comparable, you will also be casting a similar reputation. And that will cause police to act accordingly.

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You can't skip a lawyer on this one if you want to be covered. This is not a plug and play routine even if the topic is unregulated for your jurisdiction area or if there are loopholes in it.

The first thing you have to do is keep the intent to your self. If you ever tell anyone you've mined your house just to go after police, the malicious intent is enough to get you harassed for life, even if no one gets hurt and the court doesn't bother you.

Even if you are some rare case that doesn't want this stuff to conceal criminal activity - you are still better off using non lethal force. If your perimeter is so valuable that you are willing to kill cops over it - Its not so hard to heavily incapacitate them for at least 24 hours, have them removed from it - then blow it up if you want to so badly.

And no - you wont be able to stop the government from raiding you, even if that means issuing their own perimeter around your property and then calling in spec-ops teams with military grade equipment from the capital to do so. Few governments in the world honor sovereign territory of other countries, let alone civilian property in their own country.

So whatever it is you may be doing - think it through. The mere fact you are asking if you can get away with killing police on a public forum is laughable.

In case you are insane - find a way to service your insanity without getting jailed for life or killed.

The crux of the issue will always be "Is someone dead or crippled." So long as that is avoided you can store police in subterranean dungeons while you protect your wife's nude pictures from your vaults for all anyone cares.

This is exactly why you will get heavily hammered - in this day and age there are ever so many creative ways to obstruct people from entry, that excludes killing or crippling them.

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  • ... you can store police in subterranean dungeons this constitutes false imprisonment. I also very much doubt that all actions short of crippling or killing someone are legal. – jimsug Oct 5 '15 at 12:33
  • Not if you say "I paid a ex military guy to install traps to prevent theft of my property - and have put ample warning - i found it best to not know what they are - only that disabling them is done via [my method] - that i lost the key to on my way here. i would have been glad to let the officers out of the dungeon had i known there was one and how to operate it" - Do you really want me to be elaborating on doggy topics that can be used by criminals ? cmon put two and two together ... – helena4 Oct 5 '15 at 12:39
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    This is a question that includes both hypothetical and real-world examples to explore current law. You have not addressed any of the questions of law in this answer. – feetwet Oct 5 '15 at 12:39
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    "Don't kill cops" is something you could find anywhere on the internet. This is Law Stack Exchange - your answer should be supported by references to law wherever possible. There are at least two questions that you did not address in your answer: .. can I be compelled by a court to grant safe access for law enforcement to carry out the search warrant? And if, despite the clear warning, the police decide to press on with their search and an officer is injured or killed, can I be held criminally or civilly liable for that casualty? – jimsug Oct 5 '15 at 12:58
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    Furthermore, perhaps you should revisit the Help section: We specifically aim to avoid the dispensation of "legal advice." What little legal information can be construed from your answer appears to be grossly inaccurate. – feetwet Oct 5 '15 at 14:25

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