People v. Ceballos


Defendant convicted at trial of assault with a  deadly weapon and appeals.  Defendant set out a trap gun in his garage in the event that any intruder would try to burglarize his property while he slept.  Defendant was robbed by damage to the lock of his garage door and set up the trap the following morning.  Three days later the same 15 and 16-year-old attempted to rob his home again through the garage door and one boy was shot in the face by the trap.  Neither boy was carrying a weapon.


Whether defendant was entitled to use deadly force to prevent burglary through a trap, where the intruders did not carry deadly weapons or present an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death.


“Resistance sufficient to prevent the offense may be made by the party about to be injured: 1. To prevent an offense against his person, or his family, or some member thereof. 2. To prevent an illegal attempt by force to take or injure property in his lawful possession.”


No.  “Where the character and manner of the burglary do not reasonably create a fear of great bodily harm, there is no cause for exaction of human life.” Defendant cannot use a device that is without discretion to injure intruders.  The use of deadly force may be permitted at common law if the property is at risk of being burned.  Also, defendant is not justified in claiming defense of property were the shooting to be justified if he were present.  The value of the preservation of human life supersedes the policy of deterrence in this instance and such traps should not be allowed at law.  Use of deadly force is only justified in protecting against felony conduct.  This case does not demonstrate that the defendant sought to apprehend a felon.  He specifically stated the trap was set up to prevent burglary and protect his property.

“Allowing persons, at their own risk, to employ deadly mechanical devices imperils the lives of children, firemen and policemen acting within the scope of their employment, and others. Where the actor is present, there is always the possibility he will realize that deadly force is not necessary, but deadly mechanical devices are without mercy or discretion. Such devices ‘are silent instrumentalities of death. They deal death and destruction to the innocent as well as the criminal intruder without the slightest warning. The taking of human life (or infliction of great bodily injury) by such means is brutally savage and inhuman.”

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