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Can You Be Charged with Theft for Keeping Lost Property?

April 26, 2020

In some circumstances, you could be charged with a crime.

Can You Be Charged with Theft for Keeping Lost Property?

Picture this: you are walking along on your lunch break when you spot a wallet on the ground. You open it up and find $200 in cash. Are there any potential legal consequences to keeping it? The answer to this question depends on the circumstances.

According to a criminal defense lawyer in San Bernardino, CA, you may be charged with misappropriation of lost property if:

  1. You found the property with clues that would identify its owner;
  2. You took the property for your own use; and
  3. You did not make reasonable efforts to find the property’s owner.

In the situation above, if the wallet that you found contained something that identified the owner, such as a driver’s license or a credit card, you could be charged with a crime if you decided to keep the money for yourself without trying to find the owner.

But what if the wallet just contained cash, and there was nothing distinctive about the wallet that may help you identify the owner? Here, because there were no clues that would identify the wallet’s owner, then you may not be charged with a crime if you keep the money. However, depending on the facts, this analysis may change. For example, if you found the wallet in a courtyard at your office where only employees have access, then you know that a coworker is the likely owner of the wallet. In this case, you may need to ask around at work or talk to HR about anyone who may be missing a wallet in order to avoid criminal charges.

Misappropriation of lost property may be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the amount that was taken. If the property was valued at $950 or less, then it is charged as petty theft, a misdemeanor. This offense is punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. If the property was valued at $950 or more, then it will be charged as grand theft. This crime may be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the facts of the case and the individual’s criminal history. As a felony, the consequences of grand theft are up to 3 years in county jail. Misdemeanor grand theft is punishable by up to 1 year in county jail.

There are a number of potential defenses to misappropriation of lost property charges. For example, if you made reasonable efforts to find the owner — such as by googling the name of the person whose credit card was in the wallet and then attempting to get in contact with the owner — then your criminal defense lawyer in San Bernardino, CA can argue that the case should be dismissed. If you had no intent to keep the property, but only took it with you until you could find the rightful owner, this may also be a defense.

At the Chambers Law Firm, we represent individuals who have been charged with all types of California criminal offenses, including theft charges. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our team.

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