Appropriation of lost property is a theft offense described under California Penal Code 485. This statute makes it a crime for anyone who finds lost property and doesn't make a reasonable attempt to locate the owner. The classic tale of “finders-keepers” is not always without consequences.
In other words, if you find some property and then make no attempt to find the real owner, or inform law enforcement, but rather keep the property yourself, you could face theft crime criminal charges under Penal Code 485. The penalties will depend on a variety of factors, including the total value of the property and your criminal record.
An example of a PC 485 offense includes a situation where someone is walking behind a woman in a mall and observes a large wad of money fall out of her bag – but rather than making some effort to give it back – they just stick the money in their pocket.
Another example includes a situation where someone finds a nice bicycle with a name and address label attached. Rather than making any attempt to call or return the bike, they just ride it home and keep it. In this scenario, they could face PC 485 misappropriating lost property charges because no reasonable attempt was made to locate the owner.
It should be noted you are not required to post ads on Craigslist, canvass the neighborhood looking for the owner, rather you are required to make an effort to find owner, or notify police.
To give readers useful information on PC 485 appropriation of lost property, our California criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.
Definition of PC 485 Appropriation of Lost Property
California Penal Code 485 defines the crime of appropriation of lost property as follows:
Anyone who finds lost property under circumstances that give them knowledge of or a way to inquire the true owner, and who appropriates the property for their own use, without first making reasonable efforts to find the owner and to restore the property to them, is guilty of a theft crime.
In order to be convicted of a theft crime for Penal Code 485 appropriation of lost property, the prosecutor has to prove you had knowledge or the means of inquiry as to the true owner of the property taken.
The term “knowledge” in the definition simply means you actually know who owns the property, or had the means of inquiry to find the owner with a reasonable effort. This means that any information that could notify you to the identity of the true owner would meet the PC 485 requirement.
So, what exactly is a “reasonable attempt” to locate the true owner of the property? In order to convict you of this theft crime. The prosecutor must be able to prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – that you failed to make a reasonable attempt to locate the owner and give the property back.
Any determination as to whether or not your actions should be considered a reasonable attempt to locate the owner is often a question left to a jury and will depend on the circumstances at the time you found the property. However, the use of common sense often determines a reasonable attempt.
Penalties for Penal Code 485
If convicted of PC 485 appropriation of lost property, the legal penalties will depend on whether it's a conviction for a California Penal Code 488 petty theft – or Penal Code 487 grand theft – and if it's a misdemeanor or felony offense.
A misdemeanor grand theft conviction for appropriation of lost property conviction carries the following penalties:
- Up to one year in county jail
- A fine up to $1,000
A felony grand theft conviction for appropriation of lost property could result in the following:
- 16 months, two or three in county jail
- A fine up to $10,000
A misdemeanor petty theft conviction for appropriation of lost property could result in six months in the county jail, and a fine up to $1,000.
Fighting PC 485 Appropriation of Lost Property Charges
Our criminal defense lawyers can use a wide range of defenses against charges of Penal Code 485 appropriation of lost property. Each case is unique and will require a review of the details in order to determine the best strategy. The most common defenses include the following:
Lack of knowledge
In a situation where you have found lost property and there are no markings or any clues that could identify the true owner, and there is a reasonable belief the owner can't be located later, you should be able to avoid a conviction or even a case dismissal.
In other words, if there is no way to know who owns the property, you should not be guilty of Penal Code 485. It's important to note you are not required to put your life to hold and make every possible effort to finds the owner. You are only required to make some effort, which is why you need a criminal lawyer to negotiate on your behalf.
Lack of intent to Deprive Owner of Property
In a situation where you find lost property and only had intent to use it temporarily – but return it to true owner later – you are not guilty of PC 485 appropriation of lost property. Temporary deprivation of property is not considered stealing the property.
Clearly, the circumstances matter in this type of defense and you might be held liable for another type of California theft, but you should not be held liable under Penal Code 485.
Owner Couldn't Be Located
In a situation where the true owner could not be found – even after a reasonable effort were made to locate – you should not be criminally liable for PC 485 appropriation of lost property.
This type of defense could be used when there is no identifying information available when the property was found that would place you on notice to find the owner.
For example, let's say you find a large bundle of cash laying near a campsite while out of a family camping trip. Obviously, the cash doesn't contain information on the true owner and it was located in an area with few people. It would be an easy defense to argue returning the property to owner was not reasonable.
If you have been accused of appropriation of lost property in violation of California Penal Code 485, contact our experienced theft crime lawyer to review the details of the case.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-rated Los Angeles criminal defense law firm with a track record of success. We serve clients throughout Southern California from our office located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Call (310) 328-3776 for a consultation.