If you find a lost item in Los Angeles, there are legal stipulations on what you can do with an item. California Penal Code 485 puts some restrictions on how lost property should be handled, and you can potentially face strict penalties for violating this law.
Is Taking Lost Property Illegal?
It is not immediately illegal to take a lost item that you find somewhere. However, once certain requirements are met, the action can be defined as theft or appropriation of lost property which is illegal in the state of California. According to Penal Code 485, it is illegal if a person finds lost property and takes it without making reasonable efforts to find the owner. Legally, the item can only be kept if there is no logical and reasonable way to identify it and return it to its true owner. This means that a person who finds a random piece of jewelry on the beach can legally keep it, but a person who finds a wallet with a person’s identification in it cannot legally keep the item. However, if you find an item that has no clues to identification in a closed environment, such as a gathering at a person’s home, you should announce that you found the item, since the true owner is most likely still present. It is not illegal to temporarily hold onto the lost property once you know a person’s identification, but you cannot keep it for your own personal use.
What Are the Penalties for Theft of Lost Property?
If convicted of misappropriation or theft of lost property, you can be charged with either a felony, a misdemeanor, or an infraction. This decision will be based on your criminal history, the individual circumstances of the incident, and the price of the lost property. Anything under the value of $950 cannot result in felony charges, but if the value is over $950, you may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. An infraction charge will result is a possible fine of up to $250. Being convicted of a misdemeanor charge will carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of up to $1000. A felony charge can potentially include a prison time of up to three years and a fine of up to $10,000.
How Can You Defend Against Theft of Lost Property Charges?
Since the individual circumstances of each case make a huge difference in the penalties, it is important to have an experienced lawyer on your side. Your lawyer can help you to argue that there was no reasonable way of telling who owned the property. The law does not require you to do everything possible, just make a reasonable effort, so a talented lawyer can assist you in explaining that you took all logical steps. If it is proved that you knew who the owner was, but they resisted all attempts at contact with you, then you may be found innocent. Occasionally, claiming that you intended to eventually return the item can be a valid defense, since depriving an owner temporarily of an item is usually a matter for a civil court, not a criminal one.
You can only be found guilty of theft of lost property if you are proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Our law firm may be able to show your innocence or keep you from facing strict felony penalties. If you are charged with this crime, our law firm can aid you in explaining the circumstances and get the best possible outcome in your case. Contact us today to hear more about how we can help you.
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