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Taking the lost or mislaid items of others: Is it a crime?

On Behalf of | Apr 3, 2024 | Criminal Defense, Theft

Have you ever found a wallet on the ground or a phone lying on a bench? While the initial reaction might be to keep it, doing so could land you in legal trouble. Georgia has specific laws governing the theft of lost or mislaid property and understanding them is crucial to staying on the right side of the law.

Theft of lost or mislaid property, according to state law

Under Georgia law, it is illegal to take possession of property that has been lost or mislaid with the intention of depriving the owner of the property. The law applies to any personal property, including cash, jewelry, electronics, and other valuable items.

Instances of violating the law

There are many situations that would trigger a violation of state law. These include:

  • Finding a wallet and keeping the cash inside.
  • Discovering a lost phone and not making reasonable efforts to return it to the owner.
  • Picking up a piece of jewelry on the street and not attempting to locate the rightful owner.
  • Keeping a misplaced item from a public place, such as a park or a store, without reporting it.

In each of these cases, the person has taken possession of the lost or mislaid property with the intent to deprive the owner of their rightful possession.

If you commit any of the above or a similar offense, you may face criminal charges under state law.

The penalties for theft of lost or mislaid items

Stealing lost or mislaid items is normally a misdemeanor offense in Georgia. On conviction, a person faces up to 12 months of jail time and a $1,000 fine. However, the theft of items or cash of a certain value can lead to higher criminal grades and harsher punishments on conviction:

  • Theft of property worth at least $1,500.01, less than $5,000.00: The offense is punishable by up to five years of imprisonment.
  • Theft of property worth at least $5,000.00, less than $25,000.00: The offense is punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment.
  • Theft of property worth over $24,999.99: The offense is punishable by up to 20 years of imprisonment.

While finding lost or mislaid property can be tempting, it’s crucial to understand Georgia’s laws regarding theft. Always try to return the property to its rightful owner or report it to the proper authorities. Failure to do so could result in criminal charges and penalties. If you face charges, know that a legal professional with criminal defense experience may be able to advise you on your case and represent you in court.