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Fairy tale law: Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Fairy tale law: Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Christianah B


In a previous post, I discussed the criminal liability of the Big Bad Wolf in The Three Little Pigs. In this article, I’ll recount the tale of Goldilocks, a mischievous little girl who gets herself into trouble with a family of bears by breaking into their house. However, there's a twist. Unlike the Big Bad Wolf, Goldilocks is neither violent nor malevolent. Rather, her mischief gets her into trouble. What some see as nothing more than a children’s story is actually an overview of the legal system.

The People v Goldilocks

The state could bring criminal charges against Goldilocks for burglary in the first degree, petty theft of porridge and criminal damage to property (ie, a chair). The bears can easily show that Goldilocks trespassed on their land. As for the claims of conversion, the bears must show three things:

  • that they owned the porridge and the chair; 
  • that Goldilocks performed an act inconsistent with that ownership; and
  • that their property was damaged by Goldilocks’ acts.

Since Goldilocks ate the porridge then sat in and broke the chair, the bears can show that she converted those items and recover their value from Goldilocks.

Trespassing is a crime, but in order to be found guilty of trespassing, a person must enter the land after being warned not to or stay on the land after being told to leave. Unless the bears posted a sign warning against trespassers, Goldilocks could be found guilty only of a civil offence.

On the other hand, Goldilocks entered the bears’ cottage without consent with the intent of committing a crime. While she was in the house, the three bears returned home. Because of these conditions, Goldilocks can be charged with burglary in the first degree – a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

The petty theft of the porridge is an easier case, as Goldilocks clearly steals it by eating it. In most countries, the seriousness of the theft is determined by the value of the item. Since the porridge was probably worth less than £50, it would be classed as petty theft.

The state could also press charges against Goldilocks for criminal damage to property given that she broke the chair, but this would likely fail. The law states that a person must knowingly damage property to be guilty of a criminal offence. Because Goldilocks did not know that she would break the chair if she sat in it, that charge would probably fail.