Ask a Top Criminal Defense Attorney: Can I Be Charged with Theft if I Keep Lost Property?

Ask a Top Criminal Defense Attorney: Can I Be Charged with Theft if I Keep Lost Property?Imagine you are out for a lunchtime stroll when you notice a wallet on the ground. When you open it, you discover $200 in cash. Are there any possible legal repercussions if you retain it? It all depends on the situation. Read on to learn more and then contact Chambers Law Firm at 714-760-4088 if you have been accused of or charged with this or another theft crime.

You could be accused of stealing property if certain elements are present

You could be accused of stealing if the property was there when you found it, with hints that may have led you to the owner, yet you stole it for your personal use without making any reasonable attempts to track down the owner.

If the wallet you found in the example above had a driver’s license or credit card inside that might have been used to identify the owner, you could have committed a felony if you kept the money for yourself without attempting to locate the owner.

Other situations do not constitute illegal activity

However, what if the wallet was empty and didn’t have any distinguishing features that may have allowed you to identify the owner? You might not be charged with a crime if you keep the money in this case since there were no hints that would help identify the owner of the wallet.

However, this analysis might be altered by the facts. For instance, you would know that a coworker is probably the wallet’s owner if you discovered it in a courtyard at your place of business that is only accessible to workers. To avoid facing criminal charges in this situation, you may need to ask around at work or speak with HR about anyone who may be missing a wallet.

Potential penalties

Depending on how much was taken, misappropriating lost property might be punished as a felony or a misdemeanor. Petty theft, a misdemeanor, is the charge if the item’s worth was $950 or less. A fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to 6 months in county prison are possible penalties for this violation.

Grand theft will be charged if the item’s worth was $950 or above. Depending on the specifics of the case and the offender’s prior history, this offence may be classified as a felony or a misdemeanor. Grand theft carries a maximum sentence of 3 years in county prison as a felony. The maximum sentence for misdemeanor big theft is one year in county prison.

Defense options

Charges of misappropriating lost property may be defended against in a number of ways. For instance, your criminal defense attorney may argue that the case should be dropped if you took reasonable attempts to track down the owner, such as by searching for the person whose credit card was in the wallet and attempting to contact them. This may also be a defense if you just brought the property with you while looking for the legitimate owner and had no intention of keeping it.

At Chambers Law Firm, we defend people accused of many kinds of criminal offenses in California, including theft accusations. To arrange a free first consultation with a member of our team, get in touch with us right now at 714-760-4088 or

Call Us Today