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