We’ve all heard in the news of homes being burglarized every now and then. As homeowners, we want to ensure that all our valuables are safe and avoid the crimes from happening to us at all cost. However, there are limitations of which home defense strategies you can use to stay safe and out of trouble with the police yourself. Knowing these limitations and the laws that apply in your area is important to avoid committing a crime that may get you thrown in jail when you’re just trying to protect your property.
While it may sound ridiculous, otherwise upstanding citizens have been charged with crimes for these very same methods. Here are the ones that could get you in trouble, be sure to check your state and local laws to make sure your system is legal.
Hidden Home Recordings
Hidden cameras are everywhere! Often times they are used for security reasons against intruders by videotaping and recording inside your home. However, installing hidden cameras can also get you into trouble in two ways, especially if there are other people involved and the recordings are used without their consent.
First, sending the recordings to a third party other than a licensed investigator or law enforcement is punishable by law. Second, uploading the recorded video online where everyone can see is a federal offense. These activities may land you up to 6 months in jail, a fine, and possible civil lawsuits that the other individuals involved may file against you!
Security Cameras Used to Eavesdrop
Home security cameras are originally intended to monitor the owner’s private property for security reasons. With privacy laws being implemented by some localities, setting up your security camera in a way that violates another party’s privacy may get you into trouble. In particular, audio recordings are protected in many jurisdictions.
Cameras nowadays can capture both visual and audio, and accidentally recording a simple conversation of other people talking outside can be a crime. Be sure to check whether audio recordings outside of your home are legal in your area.
Security Cameras that Violate Someone’s Privacy
Another area of concern for security cameras is to make sure that they are placed and aimed in a way that won’t violate someone else’s privacy. Placing a security camera that points toward someone else’s property without their consent or in a public area without a sign may be against the law. Laws concerning video recordings from home security cameras may vary by state so make sure that you are familiar with these laws in your area before setting up your cameras.
The best policy will always be to communicate with your neighbors what you plan to do and make sure they are OK with your plan to fight crime in your neighborhood. That way, you can discuss any privacy concerns they might have before you mount your cameras.
As a short summary, remember these when setting up your home security cameras:
- Never put cameras in areas where people expect privacy
- Install cameras where people can see, or at least use a sign
- Check to make sure that outdoor audio recordings without the third party’s consent is legal in your area
Illegally Shooting an Intruder
Imagine sleeping soundly with your loved ones inside your home when all of a sudden you hear breaking glass in the living room. The first thing you would want to do is to get your gun and check the area. What if you saw an intruder crawling inside your house, would you shoot right away? If you shoot and the intruder dies or ends up wounded, would you land in jail and be charged with assault or murder? The answers to these questions depend whether the act is purely self-defense and whether any of the doctrines below apply on the case (this will depend on the state where you live, so do additional research for your state!):
- Castle doctrine - a doctrine which states that a homeowner has the right to protect his home from an intruder using a deadly force.
- Stand-your-ground laws - provide the person a right to defend himself or others against threats even to the point of using a deadly force, without the duty to retreat, in any place they can legally be (e.g. a public sidewalk).
The doctrines stated above will give you protection as a legal excuse for shooting someone given that defense conduct is proven in a court of law. In general, you must do the following so that you can use self-defense as protection from a charged violent crime:
- You should not be the original aggressor
- You should not be engaged in a criminal activity
- You should have a reasonable belief that the force is necessary to prevent serious injury or death
- You should use only enough force to counter the threat
- You should have the legal right to be where you are
- You should retreat if possible (in some states)
Setting Up Illegal Booby Traps
So you decided to take justice into your own hands and set up DIY booby traps to protect your home. Well, aside from being dangerous for friends, visitors, and pets, setting up traps that could harm or kill someone may get you thrown in jail.
So what are the examples of deadly booby traps? Some examples are placing traps that include shotguns and knives attached to trip wires. There have been homeowners who were imprisoned for setting up dangerous booby traps like these. One man in Colorado attached shotguns to trip wires inside his warehouse. The booby trap killed a would-be-thief and the business owner was convicted of murder and had to pay a lump sum to compensate the burglar’s family.
Another example was a man from New York who used knives attached above a doorway to swing down whenever a door opens. Unfortunately, a Verizon technician scheduled to come became the victim of the booby trap and the owner has to face the criminal charges.
To protect your home, there are other safe options you can use that won’t get you thrown in jail. DIY booby traps that use pepper sprays, silent alarms connected to your smartphones, and DIY home security devices such as an electronic watchdog are some of the options you can use instead. Or for convenience and better protection, you can invest a DIY home security system that you monitor yourself or upgrade to a monitored system from a company like Simplisafe or Abode.
Protecting your homes and loved ones from burglary is a right as long as you’re doing it the legal way. However, setting up home security and defense measures that violate the laws, such as invading other people’s privacy or using dangerous weapons, could get you into trouble. Make sure that you are aware of the laws that apply where you live before setting up your home defense strategies to avoid becoming a criminal while trying to catch one!
Hi, I’m Christy, and I’m an electronics engineer by profession. I have taught in a university for 2 years while pursuing my master’s degree in cognitive radio and worked for a company to develop wireless medical devices. Currently, I’m doing research for a doctorate degree in engineering using a wireless sensor network for smart agriculture. I’ve been active in our local IoT community, IoT Cebu, where I participate in conducting talks about Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and DIY home automation using Wi-Fi and ZigBee devices.