Booby Traps in Wisconsin: Can I Get in Criminal Trouble for Using Them?

To make a long story short, Wisconsin criminal courts will not look fondly on you using booby traps for any purpose- especially if someone is killed or seriously injured because of one. Wisconsin has also made clear through the law that one particular type of a booby trap (spring gun) is a felony. Do not use booby traps!

Booby traps may be a strong deterrent to protect your personal items from theft or prevent trespassers on your property. They rely on the element of surprise and typically cause enough pain to prevent further theft or trespassing. Your reason for using them may even be understandable: “I just want to stop people from stealing things from my house.” Even if booby traps are an effective way to accomplish a legal goal, that does not make booby traps a legal way to accomplish that goal.

As far back as 1914, Wisconsin courts have made clear that you can be charged criminally for using booby traps and if someone is killed because of the booby trap, you can be charged with some form of homicide. In the 1914 Wisconsin Supreme Court case of State v. Schmidt, the defendant set a spring gun (a gun rigged to fire when a triggering device such a string is tripped with enough force) to “frighten boys coming into his orchard to steal apples.” A young man tripped the wire and eventually died from the gunshot wounds from the spring gun. Not only was it illegal for him to use that spring gun, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court had no problem in upholding his conviction for second-degree murder given the facts of the case. The Wisconsin Supreme Court stated that the facts showed “evidence of malice, deliberation, depravity of mind evincing disregard for human life.”

Over 100 years later, nothing in Wisconsin has changed to make the use of booby traps acceptable. Setting a spring gun is a Class G Felony, which could mean a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $25,000. Setting other types of booby traps could still mean criminal charges. A neighbor, family member, or emergency responder may unknowingly find themselves in the way of a booby trap you set. Even if no one is hurt, you could be charged with first-degree recklessly endangering safety- a Class F felony punishable by up to 12-and-a-half years in prison and a $25,000 fine. If someone is killed because of a booby trap, a prosecutor would have State v. Schmidt on their side to justify charging you with some form of homicide.

Considering the grave consequences of doing so, booby traps should not be used to stop trespassers or thieves. However, if you have been charged with a crime because you used a booby trap to protect your property- or even if you used any sort of force to protect your property- you should give Petit & Dommershausen a call to speak with our experienced criminal defense lawyers. Under Wisconsin law, it is a defense to criminal liability (in certain situations) to use force to prevent or stop someone from unlawfully interfering with your property. Depending on the relationship you have with a third-party, you may even have a defense if you use force to protect the third-party’s property. Although you cannot use force intended to cause death or great bodily harm to protect property, the circumstances in your case may mean that you can use this defense. Even if the facts in your case do not fit this defense, a criminal defense lawyer at Petit & Dommershausen may be able to get a charge lowered or dismissed if there are some mitigating factors about the force you used.

Wisconsin law also provides a defense to criminal liability (in certain situations) if you use force to protect yourself or others. If your case involves you using force to protect yourself or others, give the criminal defense lawyers at Petit & Dommershausen a call. Whether you have been charged in the Fox Valley area (i.e. Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac), or close by (i.e. Waupaca County, Waushara County, Calumet County), you may be able to use this defense in your case.

If you are being charged with a crime involving the use of force, you may have a defense to that crime. Let us handle your case so we can learn more about it, give you legal information you might never discovered by yourself, and possibly get your case dropped or charges amended. Petit & Dommershausen has three offices in Green Bay, Menasha, and Oshkosh, with criminal defense representation in the Fox Valley and beyond.