Home Alone: A case study in Criminal and Tort Law
Many families have certain movies that are tradition to watch during the holidays. One of my family’s favorites is Home Alone. For those of you who have not seen this wonderful classic, I will give you a short synopsis. The movie revolves around the McCallister family and their son Kevin. It starts out with the family packing for their vacation to Paris for the holidays. The family wakes up late and in the rush of getting to the airport, they accidentally leave their son, Kevin, home alone.
When Kevin wakes up he is excited to have the house to himself. However, things quickly go awry for Kevin when two bandits start robbing houses in the neighborhood. Kevin decides to take matters into his own hands to protect himself and the house. He sets up multiple booby traps throughout the house in hopes of stopping the bandits from getting in. Many of these traps result in comical situations and SPOILER ALERT, in Kevin beating the bandits. His family finally arrives back from Paris in time for Christmas and the movie ends in a tearful reunion.
As I rewatched Home Alone for the millionth time this year, I realized this movie had one legal issue after another. Being the legal nerd I am, each time an issue arose I started to list the elements of each crime or tort and applied them. After a while of this, I started to realize it was possible becoming an attorney had ruined one of my favorite movies. With that in mind, I still thought, you know what this could make a great blog post. I apologize in advance if this post ruins Home Alone for any of you.
The movie starts out right away with the crime of someone impersonating a police officer. One of the bandits is dressed as a policeman and is in the McCallister’s house asking about security measures for the house and casing the place. Under Ohio law, the bandit would have been charged with a 4th-degree felony due to the fact he was impersonating a police officer with the purpose to commit burglary, which is a felony.
There are many other legal issues that arise in the movie, but this blog post would turn into a novel if I addressed each one. Because of this, I will just mention a few others. One of the most obvious crimes that happen in the movie is Burglary. In Ohio, a burglary occurs when a person by force, stealth, or deception, trespasses in an occupied structure, when another person other than an accomplice of the offender is present, with the purpose to commit a criminal offense. The bandits entered the house by force and lacked permission to enter fulfilling the trespass element. The house was occupied by Kevin when they entered and the bandits had the intent of stealing property in the house. The McCallister family would have an open and shut case against the bandits for burglary.
I believe, the most interesting issue arises out of what force Kevin legally could use to protect him and his property. Kevin sets up multiple booby traps which could be considered using deadly force or at least force. For example, a blowtorch turns on when one of the bandits opens a door and it torches his head.
Under Ohio law, a person may use force to protect himself, another person, or his property. The level of this force will vary depending on the situation and what is being protected. To be able to use deadly force a person must show, (1) that he was not at fault in creating the situation giving rise to the affray; (2) that he had a bona fide belief he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, and that his only means of escape from such danger was the use of such force; and (3) he did not violate any duty to retreat to avoid the danger. However, a person does not have a duty to retreat in their own home.
Kevin was not at fault in creating the situation of the bandits trying to break into his home, and it is likely that a young boy, home alone, would have a bona fide belief he was in imminent danger. Since Kevin was in his own home he would have had no duty to retreat.
However, the fact that Kevin used booby traps to inflict his self-defense could change things. Current case law has found that spring guns are illegal. A spring gun is any device designed to cause an “explosion for the purpose of inflicting serious physical injury or death.” It does not have to be a gun; anything which triggers an explosion in any fashion qualifies. It could be argued the blow torch was actually an illegal use of force, even against the bandits.
Kevin set many other booby traps, such as ice on the steps, an iron attached to a cord that falls and hits one of the bandits in the face, nails on the stairs, and many more. The rest of these have not been specifically criminalized but it’s likely they would have at least resulted in assault charges.
Even after dissecting this movie, Home Alone continues to be one of my favorite holiday movies. I highly suggest watching it this season, but just remember only Kevin can get away with booby traps in his house and you should stay clear.
1. O.R.C. 2921.51 (G).
3. State v. Melchior, 56 Ohio St. 2d 15 (1978).
4. Katko v Briney, 183 N.W.2d 657 (IA 1971).
5. RSMo 571.010(16).
This article is not intended to provide legal advice. It is intended to provide broad and general information about the law. Before applying the law discussed herein, please consult with your Attorney or the Attorneys at the White Law Office, Co.