Dumb Criminal of the Week: The Guy Who Thought You Could Only Be Arrested for Burglary at Night

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
July 3 2013 4:38 PM

Dumb Criminal of the Week: The Guy Who Thought You Could Only Be Arrested for Burglary at Night

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

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Crime: Breaking and entering into his mother’s home against her will

Fatal mistake: A shocking ignorance of the laws of our land

The circumstances: In June, an Ohio man named James Blankenship decided to break into his mother’s house in broad daylight. (Blankenship and his mother had quarreled earlier that year, and his mother had banned him from her house.) Perhaps he wanted to get back at his mother by stealing some jewelry; perhaps he just wanted to take a nostalgic nap in his childhood bed. We’ll never know, because the scheme was interrupted when Blankenship’s mother noticed that her prodigal son was attempting to come back home.

“Upon being discovered by his mother, the accused fled the scene,” reports the Cleveland Scene, and, really, that delightful statement ought to be the motto for the entire Dumb Criminal of the Week series. But it just got weirder from there. Here’s the Cleveland Scene:

A neighbor alerted the police that he had witnessed a man running behind a nearby home. Blankenship was discovered hiding in a crawl space not far from his mother's house, police said.
At the time of the crime, the accused told officers he didn't think he could be arrested for burglary because it was not nighttime.

Unfortunately, as Blankenship really should have known, just because most burglaries seem to happen at night doesn’t mean that burglary laws only apply at night. Why did Blankenship think this? Who knows? Maybe he had been given bad advice by an incompetent lawyer. Maybe he had just seen the vampire movie Blade, and had somehow gotten “vampires can only come out at night” confused with “criminals can only be arrested at night.” Or maybe he’s just sort of … slow? Draw your own conclusions, but, personally, I’m going with option B. That movie was confusing! (Update, 6:32 p.m.: Several readers have written to remind me that the original common law definition of burglary was "the breaking and entering of the house of another in the night time, with intent to commit a felony therein." So that might be another explanation for Blankenship's mistake. Nevertheless, I'm still going with option B.)

How he could have been a lot smarter: Know what you’re getting into before you get into it, guy! Read up on the laws before you go out and break them. Not only will this make you a smarter, more aware criminal, it’s also a great way to kill time while waiting for the bus or sitting on the toilet.

How he could have been a little smarter: All things being equal, it probably would have been smarter for Blankenship to wait until night to break into the house, what with “cover of darkness” and all.

How he could have been a little dumber: “Upon being discovered by his mother, the accused started crying.”

How he could have been a lot dumber: “You can’t arrest me for burglary, because I’m invisible!” (Retreats further into crawl space; covers face with hands.)

Ultimate Dumbness Ranking (UDR): Not knowing that burglary is a round-the-clock crime is pretty dumb, all right! And burglarizing your mom’s house is pretty lame to begin with. I can’t help feeling bad for the guy, but I also can’t help sort of understanding why his mother might have kicked him out of the house in the first place. 8.5 out of 10 for James Blankenship.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.