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Bishop v. State

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Brief Fact Summary. Appellant was found guilty of murder for killing a victim by a mechanical gun trap set for potential burglars. Appellant argued that it was a justifiable use of self defense.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. A person is not justified in taking the life of another indirectly with a mechanical device unless he would have been justified had he been personally present.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Where one inflicts an unlawful injury, such injury is to be accounted as the efficient, proximate cause of the death, whenever it shall be made to appear, either that (1) the injury itself constituted the sole proximate cause of the death; or that (2) the injury directly and materially contributed to the happening of a subsequent accruing immediate cause of the death; or that (3) the injury materially accelerated the death, although proximately occasioned by a pre-existing cause.

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Facts. Appellant was found guilty of malice murder and sentenced to life in prison. Prior to the killing, Appellant became concerned with past break-ins to the trailer he occupied. Appellant erected a gun on a trigger which would be set off if someone attempted to enter. An acquaintance of Appellant entered the trailer and was killed by the bullet or the ricochet of the bullet.

Issue. Whether Appellant used a justifiable means of self defense.

Held. Affirmed.
A person is not justified in taking a life indirectly with a mechanical device unless he would have been justified had he been personally present and taken the life with his own hand.

Allowing persons at their own risk, to employ deadly mechanical devices imperils the lives of children, firemen and policemen.

Dissent. The dissent argued that cases have drawn a line between spring gun traps used in homes and spring guns used in other places. The dissent would adopt a rule that allowed for use of the trap when an individual possessed a reasonable expectation that someone would be breaking into his home to commit a felony and that the victim indeed was breaking in to commit a felony.

Discussion. The Court ruled that even on policy grounds, private individuals cannot be allowed to defend their homes using such deadly traps. Further, to allow such deadly devices would imperil the lives of firemen, police and other individuals that were welcome on the property. The Court noted that Appellant was not even present and thus never in any real danger to begin with.

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