California Penal Code 485 PC: Theft of Lost or Found Property

April 13, 2011

Is it a crime to keep property that someone else lost and you found?

Finders Keepers, Loser Weepers is an age old saying. But is not always true, at least not according to California law.

If you come across an item and there is NO CLUE AS TO OWNERSHIP, you cannot be convicted of a theft offense. However, if there is a clue to ownership and you decide to keep the item instead of returning it you may be convicted on Penal Code Section 485.

Consider an example. You are sitting at a bus station and someone leaves their laptop case and laptop in a chair and boards a bus. You may or may not be legally allowed to retain the laptop and case depending on what is in the case.

If the owner has left any form of identification, his name and/or information inside the case or on the laptop, then there is a clue to ownership. Keeping the property could get you prosecuted under Penal Code 485 PC since the taking is considered "Unlawful".

However, if the person did not put any clue to ownership inside the case or on the laptop then the taking is not considered "Unlawful" and you cannot be convicted of a theft offense.