Ethical Burglar Of The Year (Assuming Santa Doesn’t Qualify)

Now this is an ethics category you don’t see very often!

"Let's hope that I do not, while gathering my swag, encounter evidence of a crime that, unlike burglary and theft, my personal value system regards as repugnant, for then, as a responsible citizen burglar, I would be ethically obligated to report it to law enforcement officials, thus placing myself at greater risk of arrest..."

“Let’s hope that I do not, while taking valuables and property from the private residence I am about to break into, encounter evidence of a crime that, unlike burglary and theft, my personal value system regards as repugnant, for then, as a responsible citizen burglar, I would be ethically obligated to report it to law enforcement officials, thus placing myself at greater risk of arrest…”

In Spain, a burglar  broke into the home of a trainer for a kids soccer team, and discovered a collection of child pornography, including self-made recordings of the homeowner sexually abusing children as young as ten. The burglar placed an anonymous call to local police and said he left the evidence in a car, along with a note on which he wrote the apparent pedophile’s address. “I have had the misfortune to come into possession of these tapes and feel obliged to hand them over and let you do your job, so that you can lock this … up for life,”  the burglar told police in his message.

The trainer has been arrested and charged;  one of his victims, who is now 16, told authorities she had been abused since the time she was 10.

A few ethics observations on an intriguing case:

  • The fact that the burglar’s crime by chance exposed more terrible ongoing crimes that he was able to stop does not in any way mitigate the burglary. Holding otherwise is pure consequentialism. His good deed doesn’t change his bad one in any way.
  • As a result, the pedophile can, and should press charges for the burglary. I’m guessing he will.
  • Should the burglar be given a lighter sentence by the judge because he behaved like a responsible citizen after his burglary? No, but I bet he will be, and I bet most American judges would give him a break too.
  • The entire incident is moral luck exemplified. If the burglar hadn’t stumbled upon the evidence of child abuse, he would be a common thief like any other. Now he’s being referred to in the press as the burglar “with a conscience.” Many, if not most thieves have consciences; they just don’t have opportunities to prove it handed to them in the middle of their crimes.
  • Here is irony: if an American policeman had broken into the home of such a pedophile investigating another crime and discovered such evidence of child abuse existed but did not have a valid warrant for the initial search, the tapes he found would be inadmissible in a trial, and the pedophile would go free. This is the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine. The same doctrine decrees that the evidence would be admissible if it were found by a third party, like, say, a burglar. So evidence found by a law enforcement official in a good faith, but legally flawed, pursuit of his duties is inadmissible, but the same evidence, if discovered by a criminal in the commission of a crime, may be used to convict the victim of the crime. Believe it or not, this makes sense.
Facts: UPI

18 thoughts on “Ethical Burglar Of The Year (Assuming Santa Doesn’t Qualify)

  1. What about an off duty police officer who engages in burglary on the side and discovered this information?

    I would assume it would be treated as the above scenario… But who’s to say it wasnt just an illegal search? Certainly no officer would put his career on the line for admitting such a discovery.

    Which leads to this question: who says it was even a burglar? Did the self-styled burglar come forward other than a phone call? Who’s to say he wasn’t an agent of the state and we’re just supposed to believe his message that conveniently says “hey look what I found, but you can’t find me!”

  2. If the burglar had taken the pornographic material directly to the police, admitted the reason for his possession of it, and explained that though his objective was criminal but that what he found was so upsetting that he was turning himself in — along with his “take” — would that lead the Spanish judiciary to be more lenient on him? Probably, and rightfully so.

    I understand the “fruit of the poisonous tree” concept in the American judicial system, and its purpose. However, I also believe that the same burglar, acting in the same manner in the US, would have gotten a break as well. There’s nothing so well liked here as someone turning himself in and freely admitting guilt, And “deals” made in the US judicial system — giving breaks to some felons so that more heinous ones can be caught and prosecuted — are common.

    Now, Jack, a question, if the burglar had found the porn, the coach had come home and interrupted the burglary, and the morally outraged burglar had killed the coach — possibly in self-defense — what would have happened?

  3. The case makes me wonder: If the burglar had done his burglary in the U.S., and had been more cagey with the cops, could he possibly have managed somehow to be granted immunity? (just a stemming thought, after reading Elizabeth’s comment)

    I have to admit, I also speculated the same question as Tex, as to whether the discoverer of the porn was a burglar at all. The “burglar” smells as one who shares the trainer’s guilt, deflecting suspicion away from himself, and scapegoating the trainer. With multiple victims and crimes committed over a span of years, especially with porn involved (typically “too valuable” for one rogue actor to keep to himself), I get suspicious that more than one criminal was involved. Eventually, one of the victims WILL talk, without prompting or coaching, on individual initiative; prolonged silence of victims suggests to me an effective conspiracy to silence them, using drugs or threats.

  4. Personally, I’m on the side of the burglar. Was he wrong in breaking into a man’s house with the intention of committing robbery? Absolutely. Did he, upon discovering evidence that his intended victim was a monster in human form, do the right thing in making that evidence available to the police. Again, absolutely. I don’t know what Spanish law says about inadmissability of evidence, but I’m also aware that American laws along these lines are idiotic. The burglar can rightfully be prosecuted for the crime of burglary. So could a policeman who illegally enters an area in the search for evidence. But I’m against the very concept that incriminating evidence- whether obtained by legal or illegal means, intentionally or not- should be inadmissable on that basis.

    • Was he a burglar?

      Are we just trusting the police’s report that the evidence was called in on a phone call?

      No one independent of the police actually coming forward?

      Man, just think of the framable people out there if we just trust the police who say “hey, we received a call about some evidence left in a car that condemns another citizen”

    • I do understand your point, really.

      Governments are more dangerous than criminals, though. If limiting the mischief a government can do results in criminals going free it’s probably a worthwhile tradeoff.

  5. If you have a tip- from whatever source- that proves valid and an equally proveable chain of custody; that, to me, is of first importance. Whether that was valid in this case of the Spanish burglar, I couldn’t say. What I’m thinking of, though, is how many good cases- often in the case of truly heinous crimes- were thrown out of court because of an honest procedural error. That’s what’s made me a passionate disclaimer of the present system of “inadmissable evidence”. I’m also passionate in my fervor to see justice fully rendered on any creature who commits crimes on the bodies and minds of children to whatever degree. I wouldn’t take away a man’s rights under the Constitution, but I would ease up on inadmissable evidence.

  6. The exclusionary rule only makes sense as an attempt to solve another ethical problem. If an American policeman breaks into someone’s home without a valid warrant (or other good legal reason) the fully proper and ethical response is the same as for the common burglar: Jail.

    For all intents and purposes, however, that never happens. Police won’t arrest fellow officers who break the law that way, prosecutors won’t indict them, and supervisors usually won’t even discipline them. Since the courts lack the authority to order any of those things, the only way they could try to get police to obey the rules was to exclude the evidence, thus discouraging police from breaking the laws in the name of upholding them.

    The results are strange and counterintuitive, as you note, but police could put a stop to it simply by obeying the law.

  7. Something feels off about this report. Why would a burglar take the time to watch videos when they are suppose to be stealing valuables? What if it was the parent of the 16 year old “victim”, who suspected something and took it upon themselves to investigate?

    • My assumption was the he saw the labels on the videos, was suspicious, took them, viewed them later, and reported them. People do strange and stupid things, but breaking and entering to prove child abuse is a high-risk, low-reward strategy.

  8. Reading between the lines for a timeline, it sounds like the burglar took a wide swath of items and left. The owner reported the burglary. The burglar inventoried his loot and came across the material. At that point, he placed the evidence to be found and anonymously tipped off the police to the location of the evidence and how he came across it.

    It doesn’t look like the burglar actually came forward. I guess that’s one way to get immunity: don’t identify yourself.

    • Don’t identify yourself.

      Exactly…how do we know this was even a burglar and not just the equivalent of an illegal search and seizure that resulted in finding illegal conduct.

      OH CRAP! How do we admit this as evidence? Have ole’ Francisco who works the desk call us from a payphone and tell him to alter his voice to sound shady. Then we can claim someone altruistic thief turned in the evidence…but not himself to verify.

      Semi-wild theory… enough to not trust the evidence in a system designed to err on the side of letting a few of the guilty go to protect the innocent.

      • Valid point!

        However, one key point in this specific story is the original report of a burglary by the pedophile.

        In the “Corrupt Police” scenario, the police would have had to conduct the illegal search and taken things completely off of the record as a burglar would have. Huge criminal conspiracy beyond just an illegal search. Still a possibility, but not likely.

        In the “Original” scenario, the pedophile’s original report of burglary actually corroborates the burglar who later anonymously leaves the evidence. Could the burglar still be a member of law enforcement? Yes, but it wasn’t in any official capacity as a LEO with a conspiracy.

        Either way, it’s good to consider all of the possibilities. This may not be the instance to throw oneself on the proverbial sword and come to a final position on the ethics of non-government search by anonymous people, Just log it in the brain trust library and wait for more evidence or the next instance being wary of slippery slopes we ride.

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