Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Carrier's Case Definition:

A monumental 1473 English case which extended the offence of theft (then called larceny) to include a carrier of goods who, initially lawfully in possession, converts goods to his own use.

A precedent-setting 1473 English case which extended the offence of theft (then called larceny) to include a carrier of goods who, initially lawfully in possession, converts goods to his own use. Cited as Carrier’s Case, Y. B. 13 Edward IV. f. 9, pl. 5, it involved a person who was hired to carry bales to Southampton. The defendant carried the bales elsewhere and took them for his own use. He was arrested and charged with larceny, a felony, a case which came with substantial punishment in those days.

On one side of the legal debate which erupted upon the English law courts were imminent lawyers who argued that following the strict rule of the common law, as they were then ought to do, since the carrier had lawful possession, there had been no trespass, so he could not of committed larceny.

The Chancellor jumped into the fray and pronounced that though the carrier’s actions might not meet the strict definition of larceny at common law, the actions were nonetheless criminal "according to the laws of nature". Thus encouraged, others theorized that from the moment that the intent was formed and carried out to convert the bales to his own use, the defendant was guilty.

The judgment focused on the moment that the bales were:

"... broke ... and he took them out of them what was within, he did that without warrant; ... if he took some out it is a felony."

This shut the door on the small opening the common law had seemed to offer to carriers of goods and servants in regards to theft of their master's property, of which they initially had lawful possession.

2009-11-17, Editor's note: Professor Craig Robertson of the University of North Alabama adds:

"... the change in law was no doubt prompted by greater pluralism within English society corresponding with urbanization, urbanism and incipient capitalism. The interests of laborer, merchant, purchaser and players within the legal bureaucracy would be better served over the long term by a rejection of custom and an affirmation of some expression of natural law."

References:

  • Hall, Jerome, Theft, Law and Society (New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company Inc., 1952, pp. 3-10.

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