The Obligation to Report a Crime
Q&A Radio: 3 May 2015, Question 2
I answered a question on the obligation to report a crime on 3 May 2015. You can listen to or download the podcast of just this question below – or check out the whole episode of Philosophy in Action Radio.
When is a person obliged to report a crime? About ten years ago, as a nurse, I heard a patient planning to do something illegal – particularly, to lie to an insurance company about the relationship between her injuries and the car accident so that she could keep all the settlement money. At the time, I decided to disengage but not confront or report her. I opted for that due to concerns about patient privacy, the non-violence of the planned crime, and the fact that the insurance company could detect her lie from her medical records. Recently, I've been thinking about the situation again. I'm trying to come up with a principle to apply, and I'm getting all muddled. What is my moral responsibility to intervene or report when I know that another person is planning or has done something illegal – meaning, something that would violate someone's rights? Does my responsibility change if it's a friend (assumed in confidence) or stranger (overheard in public)? Does it matter if the crime has already taken place or is merely in the works? Where is the line regarding severity of the crime? (I'd obviously report if I even heard a stranger plotting murder.) Also, what if you might be harmed if you report, such as in the case of a gang murder? Is there some basic principle that can clarify when a person is obliged to report knowledge of a crime?
My Answer, In Brief: As a general matter, you should report criminal activity to the relevant authorities. However, you should not sacrifice yourself (or others) in the process.
- Duration: 20:12
- Download: MP3 Segment (7.0 MB)
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- FindLaw: Failure to Report a Crime
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About Philosophy in Action
I'm Dr. Diana Brickell (formerly Diana Hsieh). I'm a philosopher, and I've long specialized in the application of rational principles to the challenges of real life. I completed my Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2009. I retired from work as a public intellectual in 2015.
From September 2009 to September 2015, I produced a radio show and podcast, Philosophy in Action Radio. In the primary show, my co-host Greg Perkins and I answered questions applying rational principles to the challenges of real life. We broadcast live over the internet on Sunday mornings.
My first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. The book defends the justice of moral praise and blame of persons using an Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility, thereby refuting Thomas Nagel's "problem of moral luck." My second book (and online course), Explore Atlas Shrugged, is a fantastic resource for anyone wishing to study Ayn Rand's epic novel in depth.
I can be reached via e-mail to email@example.com.