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People v. Ceballos

    Citation. 78 N.Y.2d 1074, 577 N.Y.S.2d 238, 583 N.E.2d 950 (1991)

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Ceballos (Defendant), was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon for setting up a gun trap in his garage that fired a bullet at the face of an intruder.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Defense of justification is not applicable where defendant was not even present to be in any way threatened by the invasion of the intruder.


    Facts. Having noticed evidence that someone had tried to break into his garage, the Defendant set up a gun trap that would fire a bullet at someone trying to gain entry. A neighborhood kid who hoped to gain entry to the garage to steal certain items was shot in the face by the gun trap when he attempted to enter the garage. The Defendant was not at home at the time of the assault.

    Issue. Can a defendant use a defense of justification in assaulting an intruder by use of a gun trap that fired at intruder when defendant was not at home?

    Held. No. Affirmed.
    The literal reading of a statute justifying homicide in defense of habitation during a felony intrusion is not warranted as an increasing number of felonies today do not involve the danger of serious bodily harm. Therefore, the Defendant would not have been justified in shooting an intruder even had he been present because it did not present a “forcible and atrocious crime” – the standard developed at common law.

    The Defendant was not justified in using deadly force against intruder because he was not threatened by the presence of the intruder. Since the Defendant was not at the garage when the intruder attempted to enter, he cannot have felt physically in danger by the intruder’s presence there. The Defendant is not protected from liability merely on the basis that had the Defendant in fact been present, the intruder’s conduct was such that he would have been justified in shooting him.

    Neither is the shooting justifiable on the grounds that the Defendant was attempting to apprehend the criminal, as permitted by statute. It is evident from the Defendant’s testimony that his intent was to prevent a burglary, not apprehend a burglar.


    Discussion. Under the relevant statute, the Defendant would not have been justified in shooting the intruder himself as he attempted to enter the premises principally because the neighborhood boy did not present an “atrocious” or life-threatening danger to the Defendant and would not have had he in fact been present.


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