One of the most valued aspects of American life is private property.
Whenever the topic of today’s politics is brought up to me in the tone of its trending negative civil discourse, I always go back to political campaign signs being stolen. I’m not just talking about the ones off corners of intersections or the sides of roads. I am seriously disturbed about the ones being taken off people’s lawns. Not just any lawns, but nice well to do neighborhoods by others neighbors. Two years ago a friend of mine told me of the theft of a campaign sign off his lawn. He told me he lived in a nice neighborhood. I explained to him, “Not anymore”.
In my years of law enforcement and criminal law, when a person enters your property to steal or afflict harm, it is a game changer of that person being a responsible law-abiding citizen and of that area being “nice” culturally. Furthermore, they are crossing a threshold of where a situation that is already illegal can go wrong in the matter of seconds if confronted by the homeowner.
I decided to reach out to a friend of mine who was in law enforcement and now a lawyer about this topic. My goal is to show homeowners the legal side of defending their private property and how the law can work for them. Whether you catch a person red-handed or the use of video in identifying them, there are four charges here in Indiana they can face (legal definitions of the charges are listed below): trespass, criminal mischief, theft, and/or conversion. It is always best practice to contact police and have a report filed to show prior issues.
Many homeowners are now taking matters into their own hands and laying traps for the thief’s if they’ve been targeted before or even physical confrontation. This is tricky issue legally. You have a right to catch someone using these tactics but only “within reason”. Meaning to a certain degree before you face criminal charges and civil litigation i.e. a tort claim. For instance, homeowners can electrify a sign that shocks someone taking it or put sharps blades on it to cut someone. These tactics become a possible lawsuit if innocent people touch it and get hurt. Past court cases have set precedent that people safeguarding their property can go way past reason and have been sued. One instance a man had multiple break ins and wired a shotgun to shoot someone opening a door on his property. A thief one night broke in and was shot in the leg, eventually having it amputated. The property owner was sued and forced to pay damages. You can also confront someone in the act and have them leave the property or video them. If they resort to a confrontation, you can defend yourself because you “feared for your life”. You CANNOT just walk up to someone and shoot them just for stealing a sign.
In the end, it is best to report the crime and press charges if you know the people doing it. Even if you know the person and they seem to be a “swell guy/gal” or you know this will affect them in a negative way (loss of job or marriage). It is more important to establish the rule of law than to cave to your neighborhood accepting third world norms.