Penal Code 485 PC - Appropriation of Lost Property
Most people think that if they find lost property, it's just okay to keep it. But if you find some lost property and it has some value, and there's a way for you to figure out who the true owner of the property is and you take it anyway, you're going to be charged with a theft crime. Depending on what the value of the property is, it could be charged as a felony, a misdemeanor or even an infraction. I see people and I've had cases all the time, people are going by the back of stores where they find pallets – those wooden things that they carry stuff on – and they're taking those saying, I thought these were trash.
You reasonably should know those are not trash. People use those. It's not your property. If you take it, you're subject to being charged with a crime, and depending on how valuable those items are, that could be a crime as well.
If you're going in areas where there could be a question as to whether or not something is trash or somebody's property, that's a situation where it's pretty easy to prove that you reasonably should know it's not your property. Don't touch it. You don't work for the trash department.
Defenses for Appropriation of Lost Property
If on the other hand, you're just walking on the beach and you find somebody's diamond ring in the sand, that's probably a situation where if you don't see any way to figure out whose that is, there's nobody around, it's early morning – we can think of the scenario – if there's no way to ascertain who the owner is, you could probably keep that property.
You're not responsible for running an ad in the paper or anything like that. But, if you want to be completely safe, obviously you could take it to the police station and let them deal with it. But, finding some property that's not yours – as far as whether you can keep it – it really depends on the circumstances.
So, you do run a risk especially if you keep something that's very valuable – of it somehow later being determined that you have that property, and now potentially, you could be charged with a crime, even if you didn't have a reasonable way to let anybody know. Maybe somebody could allege that you're the one that stole the property. Now you're in a horrible position. If you're going to be ultra-safe, ultra-cautious, it's probably never a good idea to keep anybody's specific property.
If you find cash on the other hand and nobody's around and you have no way to get it to anybody, you're probably in a good circumstance to be able to keep that and not be charged with something violating Penal Code Section 485. So, there are defenses to a violation of Penal Code Section 485, and that would be to say, I have no way to know who the owner of this property was. I didn't take it. I found it. How else could I have dealt with it, but to keep it? I could have just left it there, but then somebody else probably would have taken it.
So, if you have a good argument that there's no reasonable way for you to have ascertained who the person was that lost the property, then you have a good chance of beating a Penal Code Section 485 charge and you should get an attorney to represent you. Let that person assert the best defense you can for that lost property.
But taking lost property, you know, people think at first glance that if you find it you can take it, but the bottom line is if there's somebody around or you could look around and figure oh, that must be that person's money, that must be that person's watch, and you take it, you're probably going to get charged with theft if anybody finds out about it.
And now, in society, with all the video cameras everywhere, taking property that doesn't belong to you, even if it looks like it's lost, is a very dangerous proposition, and as you might guess, thieves are playing this game all the time where they're taking people's property and then when they get caught, they're saying oh, I thought that was abandoned property.
Next Steps in Your Defense
I thought they lost it. I didn't realize it was anybody's property. People are going on people's porches and taking their mail – especially around Christmas – there's a lot of valuable items and if the item that you're claiming you found is lost property is over $950, you could be prosecuted for a felony for that and be looking at up to three years in prison.
So, if you're charged with taking someone's property that didn't belong to you and you're trying to assert a defense that it's lost property, you'd better get to a criminal defense attorney quick and let them assess the situation. Let them ascertain whether or not you reasonably should have known that was somebody else's property or whether or not it's just straight lost property and it's not your fault and you could assert a valid defense to Penal Code Section 485.