The average American citizen likely hasn’t reviewed every single federal and state law in existence, and therefore can not claim to be an expert—if this were the case, then most lawyers would be out of a job. Still, just because the average American isn’t an expert on decoding and understanding laws doesn’t mean that every law actually makes sense, even if just to the actual legal professionals.
The reality is that some laws are worded in ways that make them somewhat confusing and leave them up to interpretation, making them easier for those who understand the law to be able to twist to their advantage–which can end up hurting hard-working, innocent people. Meanwhile, other laws don’t make sense not because of the language used to write them, but rather because of their nature.
Stand your ground law
You’ve probably heard of the Stand Your Ground law, its alternative being the Duty to Retreat law. The Stand Your Ground law allows people to defend themselves in situations where they sense the threat of violent crime. Meanwhile, the Duty to Retreat law states—as the name suggests—that you must do all you can to separate yourself from a violent situation instead of resorting to violence to defend yourself. A person’s right to defend themselves in situations of possible violence is decided on a state level.
Some states will have exceptions to these laws, for instance, some states with a Duty to Retreat law will allow you to defend yourself if you are facing violence from an intruder in your own home, your workplace, or your car. States will also make exceptions to Duty to Retreat laws based on the type of crime that an individual is faced with. There are also exceptions to the Stand Your Ground law. For instance, you are not allowed to set up a situation to cause harm to a trespasser–whether knowingly or unknowingly.
So, under this law, the Wet Bandits in Home Alone would have had every right to sue Kevin McCallister for the injuries that they sustained from his booby traps since he anticipated that they would be trespassing on his property and preemptively created an environment that would cause them harm. What this also means–for real, live people instead of characters from family movies–is that if you have a frequent trespasser you have a responsibility to warn them of any dangers they might face when coming onto your property. This is because, under premises liability, you could be held liable if a trespasser is injured or dies from undisclosed hazards on your property, no matter how much they’ve wronged you.
If you’re an avid fan of true crime documentaries, then you likely caught the Netflix series Worst Roommate Ever which aired in 2022 and covered some of the most chilling bad-roommate experiences, most of which ended in murder. One of these stories was about a man named Jamison Bachman, who was a serial squatter living in the state of Pennsylvania. Bachman was a con man who used his charm and a fake alias to trick single women who were looking for roommates into inviting him to stay in their homes.
He created the persona of Jed Creek, a legal scholar who made a living by offering online tutoring services. Bachman would work his way into other’s living spaces quickly, catching them off guard so they wouldn’t have a chance to make him sign the proper legal documents they would need to be able to evict him–like a lease agreement. Once he was moved in, he would start receiving mail at his new address as quickly as possible, establishing his residency and making him more difficult to evict. Having a law degree, Bachman used his knowledge of the legalities surrounding squatter’s rights to worm his way into the homes of unsuspecting women and eventually push them out, since there was no legal action they could take to kick him out.
The victims who were interviewed all had similar stories of how they either went into debt trying to make him leave, or they eventually gave up, being forced to leave the homes that they loved because of the unsettling, and often threatening, environment that Bachman created. Unfortunately, while this case is an extreme representation of how evil people can twist the law in their favour, it is not uncommon for squatters’ laws to harm the innocent. Many people in the United States have had the ownership of portions of their land, or even their homes, transferred to others who were using it without their knowledge. While these laws are meant to be used to protect people, they can be taken advantage of.