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Theft of Lost Property

Theft of any kind is a crime and, if convicted, could result in a criminal record. Having this on one’s record will have long-term consequences, regardless of whether the criminal record has a misdemeanor or felony conviction. A criminal record would make it difficult to find employment and it could limit your housing choices. The penalties for this offense are based on the value of the property taken and will result in county jail time and steep court fines.

Stealing another person’s property, even if that property was lost, is still a form of theft. If you are facing a PC 485 offense, contacting a criminal defense lawyer is highly recommended. They can dispute this charge and fight on your behalf for the best possible outcome. For a deeper understanding of this law, take a look at how California defines it.

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Definition of Theft of Lost Property

California explains what theft of lost property is under Penal Code 485. This law states it is a crime to misappropriate another person’s lost property. In other words, the defendant is guilty of:

  • Finding lost property and that property had clues that identified the owner,
  • They took that lost property to use as their own, and
  • They failed to take reasonable steps to find the true owner of the lost property.

Can you claim “finders-keepers” on the property?

The idea of finders-keepers is when you find any property that did not initially belong to you and you are legally allowed to keep it. This can be the case if you found lost items or money and turned them into the local authorities. “Finders-keepers” would apply if local authorities returns the property to you after time has passed and the owner of the property has not stepped forward to claim it.

It must be noted, however, that if the property or money you found had identifying markers showing the true owner, any finders-keepers claim would not apply. Attempting to “keep” that lost property would result in a PC 485 charge.

Example:

Jon found a pocket-sized, vintage coin sack with a roll of money inside on a grocery store shelf. It had two-thousand dollars in it. He turned it into the local police department. There was no ID or any indication of who the owner could be. After several months passed and no one stepped forward to claim it, Jon was allowed to keep the vintage sack and money inside it after the local police department gave Jon back the property.

Now, what if Jon found someone’s driver’s license inside the sack with the money? Obviously, turning it into the proper authorities will most likely result in the owner getting their money and ID back. But, Jon wants to keep the two-thousand dollars, so he leaves the ID on the grocery store shelf and walks away with the vintage coin sack full of money. At this point, he could be charged with a PC 485 offense. 

Associated Offenses

Some offenses are closely related to PC 485 and could be charged in addition to it. If you are facing more than one charge, do not let it get out of control. Get legal representation as soon as possible. It could mean the difference between facing the maximum penalties or gaining a more favorable outcome.

California PC 496 – Receiving Stolen Property;

This law prohibits accepting, acquiring, buying, selling, concealing, or receiving property you know has been stolen.

California PC 488 – Petty Theft;

Taking another individual’s property or services and that property is worth nine-hundred-fifty dollars or less is considered petty theft. This law also applies to lost property and someone’s rightful, personal property.

California PC 487 – Grand Theft;

Stealing another person’s property and those items are worth over nine-hundred-fifty dollars is the crime of grand theft.

California PC 487(d)(1) – Grand Theft Auto;

You commit this crime when you intentionally steal another person’s motor vehicle, and that automobile is worth over nine-hundred-fifty dollars. You did so without the owner’s permission with the intent to deprive them of it.

California PC 459.5 – Shoplifting;

This crime is committed if someone enters an open business with the intent to steal merchandise that is priced at nine-hundred-fifty dollars or less.

California PC 424 – Misappropriation of Public Funds;

A public officer, trustee of public funds, or public official is guilty of this crime if they misappropriate public funds for improper use.

California VC 10851 – Joyriding;

This law is violated by taking and driving someone else’s automobile without their express permission.

What the Prosecution Does

Certain facts must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for the prosecution to get a conviction for PC 485. These factors or elements of the crime are:

  • The defendant found lost property and it had clues that identified the true owner,
  • The defendant took the lost property to use for themselves, and
  • The defendant neglected to take reasonable steps in finding the actual owner of the lost property.

Is there a specific timeframe for returning the stolen property?

If there are identifying markers to indicate who the item belongs to, a reasonable effort should be made to find the correct owner. Although there is no specific timeframe, the finder of a lost item will be held accountable if they did not act reasonably or quickly enough to return the item.

Who Can Be Charged?

There are situations in which more than one charge could be filed. Additional penalties will result in higher fines, longer incarceration times, or more strict and long-term probationary periods.

Example 1:

Georgie was at the bus stop when he found a purse left on the bench. It had an ID in the wallet along with bank cards and money. The purse also had a full coin sack, a swiss army knife, wireless Bluetooth earplugs, and an iPod. He took the money, coins, knife, earplugs, and iPod. The purse was left on the bench with only the ID and bank cards in it. The property and money he took were worth a total value of $1,050. Georgie can be charged with PC 485, theft of lost property and he could face grand theft penalties.

Example 2:

Reese found a pair of Jordan sneakers and a Patagonia coat at the gym. Both items had the name “Jean” written on the tags along with a phone number. Instead of contacting the number, he took the items home and covered the contact info with a permanent marker. Two weeks later, he wore the items to the same gym. Jean, the owner, recognized the shoes and coat. Reese was charged with PC 485, theft of lost property.

Example 3:

Kerry was walking around the Plaza Bonita Mall when he saw a money clip fall out of someone’s pocket. Instead of getting their attention that something fell, he waited until they turned a corner before retrieving the money clip. It had $450. He used the money to cover his purchases at the food court. Then he visited his favorite shops and bought clothing. The money clip had been reported lost to mall security. They viewed the surveillance footage and saw Kerry pick up the clip, proceed to the food court, and then the clothing shops. Kerry could be charged with PC 485, theft of lost property.

Legal Defenses

Fortunately, there are knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers who understand what legal defenses can be used to fight a PC 485 offense. The following common legal defenses, for instance, are prime examples of what route a defense team can take to combat charges for theft of lost property.

Was the property lost, abandoned, or mislaid?

There is a difference between lost, abandoned, and mislaid. Something that has been abandoned usually indicates the owner no longer wants it. Property that has been lost or mislaid is not the same as getting cast aside or purposely abandoned. Mislaid means the owner put an item down only to forget where they placed it. Something lost or mislaid does not mean the owner no longer wants that property. If the defendant kept a lost or mislaid item and used it for themselves, they would be guilty of PC 485. If the property was abandoned, they would not be guilty of PC 485 because the owner relinquished their rights to it when they chose to cast it aside.

Example:

Arielle watched her neighbor, Oscar, set up his yard sale. When the sale was done he made a pile of items at the end of his driveway next to his garbage can. She assumed he no longer wanted them and picked through the pile before garbage day. She took home an old sewing machine, typewriter, and wooden spice rack. The garbage truck came the next morning to pick up what was left at the end of the driveway.

Oscar had dinner at Arielle’s that week and noticed the spice rack in the kitchen, the sewing machine in the living room, and the typewriter in the den. He accused Arielle of theft, claiming he had mislaid the items and wanted them back. She denied it, claiming rights to abandoned property. Oscar decided to press charges for PC 485.

In this case, Arielle would not be guilty of theft of lost property. Her defense lawyer was able to interview the garbage men. They remembered a pile of random items left near the garbage can. Leaving unwanted property near a garbage pickup indicates that it is meant to be tossed with the trash. This proves Oscar had no intention of keeping the items and wanted them thrown away. In essence, he abandoned the property. Arielle is not guilty of PC 485 because she did not steal lost property.

Did you make a reasonable effort to find the owner?

If the defendant took steps to find the actual owner of the lost property, such actions show they made some sort of effort to return it. Then again, there are varying degrees of what is considered a “reasonable” effort.

Example 1 – making a reasonable effort:

Bobby found a mountain bike on a trail and was worried it would get stolen if the owner didn’t return within the hour. He relaxed in the tall grass a few yards from it, waited an hour, but no one came to claim it. He decided to take it home. He noticed a phone number etched into the metal frame. It was an expensive bike brand and he wanted to find the owner. He called, left a voicemail, and sent text messages. After a couple of days, no one responded so he rode the bike to the police station to turn it in. The owner happened to be there, saw him climb off the bike, and got angry. He accused Bobby of stealing his bike to use it as his own.

In this case, Bobby’s intention to return the bike to the rightful owner is obvious. He explained his reasoning for taking the bike home and stated he contacted the number on the bike several times. Although Bobby did use the bike to get to the police station, he had no intention of keeping it to use as his own. Calling the number and bringing it to the police station are considered reasonable efforts to return it. Bobby would not be guilty of PC 485.

Example 2 – failing to make a reasonable effort:

Euri found a bag with a laptop in it at his local cafe. Instead of turning it into the shop employees, he drank his coffee and walked out with the bag as if it were his. Once home, he was able to hack into the laptop and begin using it. Aimee, the true owner, reported it lost at her local police station. She retraced her steps back to the cafe and showed pictures of her laptop bag to the employees. An employee remembered Euri walking out with a laptop bag and said he was a regular. She decided to wait at the cafe on his usual morning stop-in. When she saw no laptop bag, she confronted him, stating if he returned the laptop she would not press charges. Euri denied her accusation and left the cafe.

Euri made zero effort to find the owner of the laptop and lied about taking it home with him. He could face charges for PC 485, theft of lost property.

Did you intend to keep the property?

The misappropriation of lost property means that the person who stole the lost item used it as their own, knowing that it was clearly marked as someone else’s, and they had no intention of taking reasonable steps to return it. If they did not intend to keep the property from its true owner, they should not be guilty of PC 485.

Penalties for PC 485

If convicted of theft of lost property, you face the same consequences as either PC 488, petty theft, or PC 487, grand theft. The consequences depend on the monetary value of the lost property that was taken.

When the property that was stolen is worth $950 or less, the defendant faces a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanor for “petty theft of lost property”;

A county jail sentence of 6 months to one year, and/or

One thousand dollars in fines.

Depending on the details of the case and the judges’ discretion, summary (misdemeanor) probation may be awarded instead of jail time.

When the property that was taken is worth more than $950, the defendant faces a wobbler. This means the prosecution can choose to pursue either a misdemeanor or felony charge. 

Misdemeanor for “grand theft of lost property”;

As long as one year in county jail.

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation,

A potential one-year sentence in county jail, or

A possible 16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail.

Enhanced Penalties

Long-term consequences that should be taken into account when facing a PC 485 offense are the negative impacts on gun rights and immigration status.

What should you know about gun rights?

The United States Constitution outlines the people’s right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. This law allows adults who are twenty-one years old or older to acquire, buy, possess, or own a firearm. However, this privilege is only available if possession does not conflict with California’s felon with a firearm law. Defined under PC 29800, the felon with a firearm law states if someone has been convicted of a felony, they cannot own or possess a firearm.

A misdemeanor conviction for PC 485 will not affect your gun rights. However, if convicted of a felony, you lose your right to bear arms. If you are caught with a gun and there is a felony conviction on one’s record, you will face a PC 29800 offense. The penalties are: 

Felony;

As long as three years in county jail, and/or

As much as ten thousand dollars in fines.

A judge might award formal (felony) probation instead of jail time.

What should you know about your immigration status?

Crimes that are violent, heinous, depraved, fraudulent, or drug-related are considered crimes of moral turpitude. These types of convictions will negatively affect a non-citizen’s immigration status. Convictions for these crimes will result in non-citizens possibly getting deported and denied re-entry into the United States.

A PC 485 conviction is not considered a crime of moral turpitude. Nonetheless, if related crimes and/or subsequent offenses have been committed, one’s immigration status could still be affected.

Penalties for Associated Offenses

Remember, it is possible to face multiple charges, which could result in the penalties getting stacked. This means the defendant could face the consequences for a PC 485 conviction on top of the punishments for other crimes.

California PC 496 – Receiving Stolen Property;

Misdemeanor;

Informal (misdemeanor) probation,

A possible one-year county jail sentence, and/or

Fines as high as one thousand dollars.

Felony;

Felony (formal) probation,

As long as three years in county jail, and/or

Fines as high as ten thousand dollars.

California PC 488 – Petty Theft;

Misdemeanor;

A possible six-month county jail term, and/or

Fines as high as one thousand dollars, OR

Summary (informal) probation in lieu of jail time.

California PC 487 – Grand Theft;

Misdemeanor;

As long as one year in county jail.

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation,

Up to one year in county jail, or

16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail.

California PC 487(d)(1) – Grand Theft Auto;

Misdemeanor;

As long as one year in county jail, and/or

Fines as high as five thousand dollars.

Felony;

16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail, and/or

Up to ten thousand dollars in fines.

California PC 459.5 – Shoplifting;

Misdemeanor;

As long as six months in county jail, and/or

Fines as high as one thousand dollars.

California PC 424 – Misappropriation Of Public Funds;

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation,

2, 3, or 4 years in state prison, and/or

Fines as high as ten thousand dollars.

California VC 10851 – Joyriding;

Misdemeanor;

A potential county jail sentence of up to one year, and/or

Fines as high as five thousand dollars.

Felony;

16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail, and/or

As much as ten thousand dollars in fines.

Who Can Help

Are you located in San Diego, Los Angeles, or Orange County and need legal assistance? If you or someone you care about is facing a PC 485 charge or any of the related offenses, contact the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum. Earning accolades as a passionate and aggressive defense lawyer, Attorney Yum knows what it takes to gain her clients the best possible results.

It is not too late to protect your rights and stand for your freedom. Attorney Yum is a top-rated defense lawyer with the experience and expertise to challenge any offense. Let us help. To schedule your no-obligation, free consultation, simply call 619-233-4433 or use our online contact form.