Nick Memmo of East Freetown, MA was recently arrested for keeping a TV that was delivered to his house. He had ordered a 75-inch TV valued at $1200 from Amazon and received that as well as a second, 86-inch TV valued at $2700 which he did not order. Because he did not attempt to return the extra TV, the police raided his house, arrested him, and charged him with felony larceny.
Opinions are divided on whether it was appropriate or excessive to arrest someone in these circumstances. In my opinion, the decision to arrest Memmo was outrageous.
According to the non-aggression principle, it is morally wrong to violate the rights of another person, whether by physically harming that person, interfering in their freedom, or taking away their property. In other words, the only thing that is morally wrong is to actively commit a wrong, not merely to fail to prevent or correct a wrong. Actively taking a TV that belongs to someone else is morally wrong, and constitutes larceny. But merely keeping a TV that someone else mistakenly gave you is not morally wrong, and should not be considered larceny according to any sane definition.
The delivery company (a third-party company that contracts with Amazon) messed up by bringing the extra TV to Memmo’s home. According to news reports, they attempted to contact him to get it back, and his failure to respond was a reason that factored into the decision to arrest him. But no one is obligated to correct someone else’s mistakes. It stinks for the delivery company that their driver made a mistake that cost them $2700, but that is what happens when one makes a mistake. The delivery company needs to live with the results of their mistake instead of having an innocent person arrested because he failed to help them fix their mess-up.
A letter was published in the Boston Globe about this issue which really irked me. In the letter, Beth Logan of Chelmsford wrote, “Packages delivered to my door are not necessarily mine. Last year, a package had my neighbor’s address on it. I walked four houses down, and delivered it there. I sometimes get other neighbors’ mail in my box, and I bring it to them… This is how people should behave. Any other behavior is inappropriate, unethical, and, hopefully, illegal.”
I strongly disagree with this statement and find the contemptuous, smug, and authoritarian tone of this letter to be very objectionable. To bring mis-delivered mail and packages to the correct address is nice, but not obligatory. If mail or a package is delivered to someone’s door, that person is within his or her rights to keep it. It is the responsibility of delivery companies to do their jobs accurately or absorb the results of their mistakes (e.g. paying for a second 86-inch TV); it is not the responsibility of the unintended recipient to fix the situation. If Logan wants to correct the mistakes of mail carriers and delivery people, that’s great, but she has no right to demand that other people act the same way as she does. Who on earth is she to dictate how other people ought to behave? To so harshly and contemptuously condemn people who are doing nothing wrong is what is truly inappropriate and unethical.