California Penal Code Section 485 PC: Misappropriation Of Lost Property

lost property misappropriation

1. Definition and Elements of the Crime

People lose valuable property every day through the fault of no one but themselves. In many cases, the person who finds lost property would consider him or herself very lucky. However, there may be situations in which keeping lost property can amount to a crime. Under California Penal Code Section 485 PC, misappropriation of lost property can be a theft offense which could result in jail or prison sentences for the person who unlawfully keeps property that does not belong to them.

To prove a defendant is guilty of unlawfully appropriating lost property under California Penal Code Section 485 PC, a prosecutor must be able to establish the following elements:

  1. The defendant found lost property under circumstances that would give him or her knowledge of who the owner of the property is or means to determine the true owner
  2. The defendant appropriated the lost property for his own use or for the use of another person who is not the true owner
  3. AND the defendant did not make reasonable efforts to find the original owner or to restore the property to its rightful owner.

Clearly, it is not a crime to keep found property in all circumstances. Therefore, people who find cash in the streets or beachcombers who discover treasures in the sand are usually immune from criminal prosecution. However, when the finder of the property could reasonably determine who the true owner of the lost property is and fails to make efforts to return the property, that person may be prosecuted for petty theft or grand theft depending on the value of the property found.

2. Related Offenses

Other similar or related offenses include:

  1. Petty Theft - California Penal Code Section 484 PC
  2. Grand Theft – California Penal Code Section 487 PC
  3. Receiving Stolen Property – California Penal Code Section 496 PC

3. Examples

A man finds a $100 bill lying on the sidewalk. He has no idea who dropped it and he quickly picks it up. This man did not unlawfully appropriate lost property because there was no indication of who owned the money when he found it. The man would be entitled to take and keep this money. However, if the man sees a wad of cash fall from someone’s pocket, he would not be justified in taking this money from the street and could be prosecuted under California Penal Code Section 485 PC if he does.

In another example a man finds a wallet on a deserted beach. The wallet contains a driver’s license and credit cards with the same name and a substantial amount of cash. The man would not be entitled to keep this property unless and until he made reasonable efforts to return it. This could be turning the wallet into authorities or contacting the man independently. If these efforts prove fruitless, the man would then be allowed to keep the cash.

4. Defenses to Misappropriation of Lost Property

The crime of misappropriation of lost property is one that is very difficult for a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, it is not an offense that is widely charged. If the defendant can show they did not know who the owner of the property was or that they made a reasonable effort to return the property, then he or she would not be criminally liable for this offense.

5. Penalties

Depending on the value of the lost property misappropriated, California Penal Code Section 485 PC can be treated as a grand theft or petty theft offense. If the value of the property was $950 or less, petty theft misdemeanor charges would apply. The maximum penalty for petty theft is 6 months in jail and substantial court fines. If the value of the property exceeds $950, the defendant can be charged with grand theft. Grand theft is itself a “wobbler” which can be filed as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If filed as a felony, the defendant would face a maximum of three years in prison.

6. Criminal Defense for Misappropriation of Lost Property Cases

Misappropriation of lost property is a serious theft offense that a person can sometimes commit without realizing. If you have been charged with this offense, it is very important that you speak with a knowledgeable Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney right away. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is highly skilled at helping clients charged with theft offenses of this nature. Mr. Kraut is well-known throughout the court system as a knowledgeable lawyer who fights hard on behalf of his clients.

For more information about misappropriation of lost property, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1480, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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