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Wrongful Appropriation of Lost Property or “Larceny Theft”: California Penal Code 485 (PC 485)

 

 

Overview

What is wrongful appropriation of lost property or “larceny theft” in California?

Under California Penal Code Section 485[i], it is illegal to take lost property when you have knowledge of the identity of the true owner or the ability to seek information about who the property belongs to.   This offense typically arises when you find someone else’s property that has been lost or misplaced, and instead of making an attempt to return it to the true owner, you keep it for your own use. Wrongful appropriation of lost property is considered a form of “theft” or “larceny” under PC 485.

In order to convict you of wrongful appropriation of lost property, the prosecution (according to PC 485) must prove ALL of the following:

  1. You took an item of value with knowledge or means of inquiry as to the rightful owner
  2. You did not make a reasonable attempt to locate the rightful owner
  3. You took possession of property owned by someone else
  4. You took the property without the owner’s consent
  5. When you took the property, you intended to deprive the owner of it permanently or to remove it from the owner’s possession for an extended period of time that he or she would be deprived of a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property
  6. You moved the property, even a small distance, and kept it for any period of time

 

Defenses to wrongful appropriation of lost property or “larceny theft” charges under California PC 485

There are a number of defenses that a larceny theft lawyer at Wallin and Klarich experienced in appropriation of lost property can raise on your behalf. These include:

  • Lack of intent to permanently deprive
  • Claim of right
  • You made a reasonable attempt to locate the true owner
  • The rightful owner could not be found

Be sure to consult a California larceny theft attorney at Wallin & Klarich with experience in wrongful appropriation of lost property (PC 485) to learn more.

 

Wrongful appropriation of lost property sentencing and punishment

PC 485 sentencing
A conviction for appropriation of lost property is treated as a sentence for grand theft or petty theft.

The sentencing and punishment for a wrongful appropriation of lost property conviction is determined by whether the offense is considered grand theft or petty theft under California Penal Code sections 487 and 488[ii]. In addition, the severity of the criminal penalties you face depends on whether the offense is charged as a misdemeanor or felony.

A misdemeanor grand theft or larceny appropriation of lost property conviction is punishable by up to a year in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. A felony grand theft appropriation of lost property conviction is punishable by 16 months, or two to three years in county jail and a maximum fine of $10,000. A petty theft or larceny appropriation of lost property conviction is punishable by up to six months in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.

 

Wrongful appropriation of lost property FAQ’s

To help you understand the various aspects of an appropriation of lost property charge under PC 485, our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have provided answers to some of the most commonly asked questions in our FAQ section. There, you can find answers to questions like:

  • What is considered a “reasonable effort” to find the true owner?
  • If I am convicted of wrongful appropriation of lost property, can I receive probation instead of jail time?
  • How is the value of the item or property determined?

 

Prosecution of Larceny Theft Charges

If you have been charged with theft for appropriation of lost property in California, you are facing some serious jail time. You will  need an experienced theft lawyer that will fight properly and effectively against the prosecution’s charges. There are several ways that the prosecution can influence your theft conviction for this crime. Read on to learn more about what the prosecution will argue to enhance your theft conviction, and remember to call Wallin and Klarich today so we can fight for you.

To help you become more familiar with appropriation of lost property charges in California, our theft lawyers at Wallin & Klarich want to share with you what the prosecution needs to prove in order to give you a theft conviction for this offense.

 

Theft Conviction Laws in California

California Penal Code section 485[i] criminalizes the appropriation of lost property when you have knowledge or the means of inquiry as to the identity of the true owner. In order to give you a theft conviction for appropriation of lost property in  a California court, the prosecution must prove ALL of the following:

  1. You took an item of value with knowledge or means of inquiry as to the rightful owner
  2. You did not make a reasonable attempt to locate the rightful owner
  3. You took possession of property owned by someone else
  4. You took the property without the owner’s consent
  5. When you took the property, you intended to deprive the owner of it permanently or to remove it from the owner’s possession for an extended period of time that he or she would be deprived of a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property
  6. You moved the property, even a small distance, and kept it for any period of time

 

Knowledge or means of inquiry as to the rightful owner

Theft Conviction -  Returning to Owner
Prosecution must show you had reasonable means of finding the owner of the property (such as a name and address on a package).

In order to give you a theft conviction for appropriation of lost property under California Penal Code section 485, the prosecution must show that you had knowledge or the means of inquiry as to the rightful owner of the property taken. “Knowledge” means that you actually know who the property belongs to while “means of inquiry” refers to the ability to discover who the owner is through a reasonable investigation. Any information that puts you on notice of the identity of the rightful owner or how to find him/her can satisfy this requirement.

For example: You pull up to a gas station in California and find that someone has left their wallet on the pump. You open the wallet and inside contains the true owner’s driver’s license with his current address and telephone number. Since this information has revealed identity of the wallet’s true owner and how to find him, you possess the requisite knowledge and means of inquiry necessary to receive a conviction for this offense.

 

Reasonable attempt to locate the rightful owner

The prosecution must show that you failed to make a reasonable attempt to locate the rightful owner in order to give you a theft conviction for appropriation of lost property. Whether or not your actions were a reasonable attempt to locate the owner is a question determined by the California jury and will depend on the circumstances present at the time of the alleged offense. Common examples of a “reasonable attempt” include turning over the property to authorities or contacting the lost and found section of the establishment where the property was found.

 

Without the Owner’s Consent

Valid consent is only obtained if the victim acted freely and voluntarily while knowing the nature of his consent. If you obtained property with the victim’s permission, you cannot receive a theft conviction for appropriation of lost property.

 

With the Intent to Permanently Deprive

The prosecution must also prove that you intended to permanently deprive the owner of the property or its use. This intent must be formed before or during the time in which you took possession of the property. If you took the property but never had the intent to keep it or convert it to your own use, you cannot receive a conviction for this offense.

 

Defenses to Larceny Theft Charges in California

When charged with a serious crime such as violating appropriation of lost property laws , you need a California theft defense attorney that will fight for you using an effective defense strategy. There are several defenses available that could result in a dismissal or reduction of your appropriation of lost property charge. Here are some successful defenses that our theft defense lawyers at Wallin & Klarich can raise on your behalf:

 

Theft Defense #1: Lack of intent to permanently deprive

An intent to deprive the owner of property, even temporarily, is enough to find you guilty of violating appropriation of lost property laws. However, your theft defense attorney can argue that you did not have the specific intent to deprive the owner of the property or convert it to your own use. For example: You find a cell phone while taking a stroll through the park. You take the cell phone and call several of the stored numbers in an attempt to find the true owner, but no one answers. The next day, you completely forget about the phone and leave it sitting on your desk for several weeks. Although only one brief attempt at calling a few numbers in the phone might not be considered a “reasonable” effort to find the true owner, you never used the phone in a manner than was inconsistent with the owner’s possession and did not form the intent to permanently deprive him of its use.

 

Defense #2: Claim of right

A claim of right to the property is a theft defense to appropriation of lost property laws. You obtain property under a claim of right if you believe in good faith that you have a right to the specific property and openly take it. You can hold a good faith belief even if the belief is mistaken or unreasonable. In deciding whether or not you had such a good faith belief, the court will consider all of the facts known to you at the time you obtained the property.

 

Theft Defense #3: You made a reasonable attempt to locate the rightful owner

Theft Defense - Attempt to locate owner
If you made a reasonable attempt to find the owner of lost property (such as this cellphone) you may have a plausible defense.

In order to convict you of violation of appropriation of lost property laws in California under California Penal Code section 485[i], the prosecution must prove that you failed to make a reasonable attempt to locate the rightful owner of the property. What is considered a “reasonable” attempt is a question of fact determined by the jury and depends on the circumstances of your case. Your theft defense attorney can argue that you did everything that a reasonable person in your situation would do to locate the true owner and therefore you cannot be found guilty of violating appropriation of lost property laws.

 

Defense #4: The rightful owner cannot be found

It is very possible that in some cases, the rightful owner could not be found even if reasonable efforts were made to try and locate him. This defense usually arises when there is no identifying information available at the time the property was taken that would put you on notice of how to locate the true owner. For example: You find a large amount of cash while camping with a few friends near the Grand Canyon. Since the property itself contains no information as to the identity of the rightful owner and it was found in a sparsely populated area, your theft defense lawyer can argue that any attempt to return the property would not have been reasonable.

 

Sentencing and Punishment for Appropriation of Lost Property Charges

If you have been charged with theft for appropriation of lost property in California, you are facing some serious jail time. You will  need an experienced theft lawyer to defend you and help you receive minimal theft punishment. Read on to learn more about sentencing and punishment for this crime, and remember to call Wallin and Klarich today.

Theft punishment and sentencing for appropriation of lost property is determined by whether the offense is considered grand theft or petty theft under California Penal Code sections 487[i] and 488[ii]. The severity of penalties associated with a conviction for appropriation of lost property depends on the value of property taken.

 

Grand Theft Punishment

If the value of the property taken exceeds $950, your appropriation of lost property charge will be classified as grand theft under California Penal Code section 487. The property’s value is determined by its present market value at the time of the offense (when it was taken) rather than its original purchase price. It is not uncommon to see the true owner or even the California police overestimate the value of the property by assigning a random number reflecting its worth. Therefore, it is important to contact an experienced theft attorney in order to determine the property’s present value.

Grand theft of property that is worth up to $950 will be charged as a misdemeanor. If you are charged with appropriation of lost property and are convicted of misdemeanor grand theft, you face a theft sentence of up to a year in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.

 

Petty Theft Punishment

If the value of the property taken is less than $950, your appropriation of lost property charge will be classified as petty theft under California Penal Code section 488. If you are convicted of petty theft appropriation of lost property, you face a theft punishment of up to six months in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. However, if the property taken was valued at $50 or less and you have no other theft related offenses on your record, the charge can be reduced to an infraction and you will only be subject to a maximum fine of $250.

 

 Court options at the time of sentencing

Appropriation of Lost Property Theft Punishment
The court has discretion in determining your punishment depending on the circumstances of your case.

If you are convicted of appropriation of lost property, the court has discretion in determining your theft punishment depending on the circumstances of your case. The court has the following theft sentencing options:

  • The court can sentence you to one of three terms provided by law:
    • Misdemeanor grand theft appropriation of lost property: up to one year in county jail
    • Felony grand theft appropriation of lost property: 16 months, 2 or 3 years in county jail
    • Petty theft appropriation of lost property: up to 6 months in county jail
  • Place you on probation and impose a sentence of up to one year in county jail
  •  Place you on probation with no jail time, but order you to do community service, a work release program and repay the value of the property taken
  • Place you on formal probation and assign you a probation officer

 

Probation terms

When you are placed on probation the court will impose specific terms of probation that apply to the crime for which you were convicted. These terms of probation will include:

  1. Violate no law (other than a traffic infraction)
  2. Visit your probation officer as often as required by your probation terms
  3. Perform community service
  4. Pay restitution to compensate the victim

These are only a few of the probation terms that a court can impose. If you are found to be in violation of any of these terms, the court can sentence you to the maximum time allowed by law.

 

Frequently asked questions regarding larceny theft

Our theft defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich want to share some common questions we have received regarding California’s approach to appropriation of lost property.

Is appropriation of lost property punished like a type of “theft” crime?

Yes. Although appropriation of lost property is defined under California Penal Code section 485[i], the sentencing and punishment associated with this crime depends on whether the offense is charged as a type of petty theft or grand theft under California Penal Code section 487 and 488[ii]. Grand theft occurs when the item taken is valued at over $950 and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances of your case. Petty theft occurs when the item taken is valued at less than $950 and is usually charged as a misdemeanor, or in some cases, a minor infraction.

How is the value of the item or property determined?

The value of the property is determined by its current market value at the time the rightful owner was deprived of its use. This is typically lower than the purchase price of the property, unless the item appreciates over time like antiques or works of art. In many appropriation of lost property cases, the victim or the police will quote the value of the property using its original purchase price rather than its current market value. Because of this, it is important to acquire the help of a knowledgeable theft defense attorney who can determine the true value of the property in question. It could be the difference between a grand theft and a petty theft charge.

What does “knowledge or means of inquiry as to the true owner” mean?

You have “knowledge” as to the true owner of the property if you have obtained any information that reveals who the property belongs to. This knowledge can be acquired or contained within the object itself or can be revealed to you through a secondary source. “Means of inquiry” as to the true owner of the property refers to the ability to discover the identity of the owner through a reasonable investigation. If you fail to make a reasonable investigation, you can still be convicted of appropriation of lost property if such an investigation would have revealed the identity of the true owner.

What is considered a “reasonable effort” to find the true owner?

This is a very subjective standard and there is real no set definition for what constitutes a reasonable attempt or effort to find the true owner. The key issue is whether or not a reasonable person would have put forth the same effort (or lack thereof) that you did under the same set of circumstances. This is a question that is determined by the jury and a knowledgeable theft defense attorney can help them understand that your actions were in fact reasonable under the circumstances.

If I am convicted of appropriation of lost property, can I receive probation instead of jail time?

Yes. The court has several options at the time of sentencing including granting of probation in lieu of jail time. You may also be required to regularly report in with a probation officer and pay restitution in order to compensate the victim for the value of the property taken. In any case, a skilled theft defense attorney can help you avoid jail time by convincing the court that probation is a reasonable and fair punishment under the circumstances.

What if I believed the property actually belonged to me?

If you believed that the property taken actually belonged to you rather than another, you may have a claim of right defense to an appropriation of lost property charge. You obtain property under a claim of right if you believe in good faith that you have a right to the specific property and openly take it. This belief can be mistaken or even unreasonable, but so long as it was made in good faith, you cannot be convicted of appropriation of lost property.

Contact Wallin & Klarich Today

Appropriation of Lost Property - PC 485
Contact the experienced larceny theft defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich today

If you are confronted with accusations of wrongful appropriation of lost property or larceny theft under PC 485, it is essential that you contact an experienced California criminal lawyer with experience in appropriation of lost property who are familiar with such cases.

With offices in Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, and Victorville, Wallin & Klarich has successfully represented clients facing appropriation of lost property charges for over 30 years. We have the knowledge and the know-how to win your case.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245. We will be there when you call.


[i] Information on Penal Code 485 retrieved from http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/485.html

[ii] Information on Penal Codes 487 and 488 retrieved from http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=484-502.9

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