Penal Code 485 PC | Appropriation of Lost Property
Penal Code 485 PC | Appropriation of Lost Property
Have you ever found a wallet on the ground with cash inside and were tempted to keep it? Or maybe you found someone’s lost cell phone and thought about just putting it in your pocket rather than turning it in. While it may seem harmless to keep something you find that doesn’t belong to you, this could actually be a crime under California law.
California Penal Code 485 PC is the state’s law against the appropriation of lost property. This law makes it illegal to intentionally and knowingly take possession of lost property valued at $950 or more when you know or reasonably should know that the property belongs to someone else.
Appropriation of lost property is a form of theft under California law. If convicted, you could face jail time, fines, probation, and other penalties.
Elements of the Crime
For a prosecutor to convict you of violating Penal Code 485 PC, they need to prove the following elements:
- You found or acquired property that was lost
- You knew or reasonably should have known the property belonged to someone else
- You intentionally kept or appropriated the property for your own use
- The value of the property was $950 or more
Lost vs Mislaid Property
An important distinction is that Penal Code 485 only applies to lost property, not mislaid property. Lost property is something you find in a random public place with no indication of who it belongs to. Mislaid property is something you find in a particular place where the owner likely set it down and meant to come back for it.
For example, a wallet dropped on the sidewalk is lost property. But a cell phone left on a restaurant table is mislaid property. You wouldn’t be guilty under 485 PC for keeping mislaid property.
Reasonable Belief of Ownership
To be convicted, you must have known or reasonably should have known that the property belonged to someone else. This is based on an objective “reasonable person” standard. Would a reasonable person in your situation have known the property didn’t belong to you?
For example, if you find an envelope on the ground with someone else’s name on it, a reasonable person would assume it doesn’t belong to them. Or if you find a backpack with schoolbooks inside, a reasonable person would make an effort to return it to the owner.
Intent to Permanently Deprive
You must have intended to permanently deprive the owner of their property. If you planned to hold onto something only temporarily before returning it, you may not be guilty. But the law looks at your actions, not just your stated intent. So if you kept property for an unreasonably long time before attempting to find the owner, you could still be charged.
Value of $950 or More
The lost property must be worth $950 or more for Penal Code 485 to apply. If it’s worth less than that, it would only be petty theft. The value is based on the fair market value of the property.
A violation of Penal Code 485 is a form of grand theft. This is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. Potential penalties include:
- Misdemeanor: Up to 1 year in county jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both
- Felony: 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in state prison, a fine up to $10,000, or both
If this is your first offense, the prosecutor may agree to reduce the charges to a misdemeanor to avoid a felony conviction. You may also be eligible for probation instead of jail time. As a condition of probation, the court may order you to return the property or repay the victim for the value of the property.
If you are charged with violating Penal Code 485, a criminal defense attorney can help build a strong defense to fight the charges. Here are some common defenses:
You Didn’t Know it Was Lost
As discussed above, the prosecution must prove you knew or reasonably should have known the property was lost and belonged to someone else. If you truly did not know the property was lost, this is a valid defense. For example, maybe you thought someone deliberately abandoned the property or gave it to you as a gift.
No Intent to Keep It
If you planned to return the property to the rightful owner after holding it temporarily, you lacked the required intent. Your defense attorney can argue you never meant to permanently deprive the owner.
Lack of Value
If the property was worth less than $950, then it does not meet the value requirement under 485 PC. The charges could potentially be reduced to petty theft.
Sometimes people make false accusations against others for various reasons. An experienced attorney can investigate the accuser’s credibility and motives and build a defense showing you were falsely accused.
Other California laws related to lost property include:
- Penal Code 485.5 PC – Failing to turn in lost property worth $100 or more to law enforcement within 90 days. This is a misdemeanor.
- Penal Code 486 PC – Stealing lost property worth less than $950. This is petty theft, a misdemeanor.
- Penal Code 487 PC – Stealing lost property worth $950 or more. This is grand theft, a wobbler offense.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help analyze the facts of your case and develop the strongest defense strategy. Early intervention may help get charges reduced or dismissed.