‘Tis the season for porch pirates! The seas are perfect when you consider online shopping is outperforming in-store shopping for the first time ever and this is the most robust holiday spending season since 2014 at $682 billion. This means online retailers, like Amazon, and shipping companies are working at a (yellow?) fever pitch in order to get consumer goods to homes and offices. But unless you’ve arranged for your packages to be delivered at a time you can be are at home, those packages may be sitting on your front porch all day while you are at work and may be raided by porch pirates. For the uninitiated, “porch pirates” are your run-of-the-mill common criminal that steals packages from others people’s porches.
One fed up victim of constant piracy, Jaireme Barro, decided to take matters into his own hands with a controversial method of scaring the pirates into thinking they are being attacked. His invention, The Blank Box, appears to be an unassuming cardboard box complete with a packing slip for added legitimacy. Inside, it contains a trigger mechanism that fires blank shotgun shells when lifted. The intent of the invention is to scare the would-be thief into thinking they are being shot at by the homeowner so they leave the packages and never return.
The surveillance footage he has captured is certainly entertaining, but is this method legal? In Katko v. Briney, an important case on the issue of defense of property, the court ruled that landowners have a duty to not set potentially deadly traps for trespassers. In that case, a landowner set up a loaded shotgun in an empty farmhouse. When a person entered, the shotgun would fire at the intruder. Briney set up the gun so it would fire at the legs of a trespasser and avoid a fatal blow. Sure enough, when Katko entered the empty house, he triggered the gun which fired at his legs and severely injured him. He later sued Briney for the injury. The court ruled in favor of the injured Katko and awarded him $20,000 in actual damages and $10,000 in punitive damages. Briney had to sell part of the farm to pay the judgment.
The biggest difference in Katko v. Briney and The Blank Box is that The Blank Box employs blank shotgun shells and is not intended to cause any physical injury. It is merely a ploy to scare porch pirates and deter them from returning to steal future packages. However, it is possible for a person to be injured by a blank shotgun shell and as you can see in at least one of the videos on Jaireme’s website, a would-be thief falls down as he attempts to run away. If he was to sustain an injury or have a heart attack, he might decide to sue Jaireme for damages caused by an injury that occurred on his property. Furthermore, the local police have said the device appears to be illegal, but they don’t have a victim yet, presumably because no one wants to admit to a crime in order to report an injury from the box. *****
State laws differ on defense of property, but most of them allow for a reasonable, but not deadly, use of force in order to defend their property. A few allow deadly force to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. When paired with the Katko v. Briney case, the take away is that you cannot set up a trap or trigger to do something that is otherwise not allowed for by law if you were to do it yourself.
The Blank Box only scares thieves, so shouldn’t it technically be okay (i.e., reasonable)? Maybe, but you should speak to your local police department first and consider the legal consequences if something goes wrong and the porch pirate is seriously injured or dies of a heart attack. The civil liability you may face could be far greater than the value of a few packages, so it’s far better to be safe than sorry. If you have repeated issues with porch pirates, it may be advisable to advertise a security system and post “no trespassing” signs, but at the end of the day, sending packages to your workplace may just be the best solution of all.
For more information about Lindley Law and our practice areas (but admittedly, no pirate jokes), please visit us at www.lindleylawoffice.com.
Bonus Pirate Pun: How did the pirate get the Jolly Roger so cheap? He bought it on sail. (Sorry)