According to California Penal Code Section 485 (PC-485) it is unlawful to take lost property while knowing the identity of the owner or having ability to pursue information about who the property belongs to.
Elements of Penal Code 485 Appropriation Of Lost Property
Prosecutor must establish the following elements to prove that the defendant is guilty of unlawful appropriation of lost property under PC Section 485.
- Defendant found lost property under circumstances where he had knowledge of the identity of the owner or had the ability to pursue information about who the property belonged to.
- Defendant took possession of the lost property for his own use or for the use of another one who was not the rightful owner.
- Defendant dis so with intention to permanently deprive the owner of a major portion of the value or the enjoyment of the property
- Defendant did not make a reasonable attempt to find the rightful owner and to return the lost property
Actual and Constructive Possession
There are two ways of the lost property possession: actual possession and constructive possession. Person has an actual possession when he physically possesses the property. Constructive possession means that a person doesn’t physically posses the property but he holds control and ownership of it.
Legal and Illegal Possession
When a person loses his property it does not mean he relinquishes control or ownership over, unless he intended to abandon it.
A person retains his constructive possession of the property while another one gets actual possession of that property. The actual possession can be legal or illegal. The actual possession of property is legal when a person who takes it makes reasonable efforts to find the rightful owner. The possession is considered unlawful in case the person keeps the property without undertaking any actions to return it.
Legal Defenses to PC 485
Legal Defenses to PC 485 charges
- Lack of knowledge
Knowledge means that defendant actually knew who was the rightful owner of the property, had an ability to find him through an investigation and made a reasonable attempt.
A “reasonable attempt” is a question of fact which depends on the specific circumstances of the case and is determined by the jury. Thus for convicting a person in appropriation of lost property under California PC Section 485 prosecution must prove that the defendant had knowledge about the owner or had means of inquiry to find him.
- Defendant had no intention to permanently deprive the owner of the property
Defendant is not guilty of this offence in case he used the property for a time before returning it to the legal owner.
Defendant must have intent to permanently deprive the owner of its value or enjoyment of the property. But in case he returned it or undertook some efforts to find the rightful owner, he is not guilty under PC Section 485. However the defendant can be civilly liable for depriving the owner of its value or enjoyment of the property or damaging it.
Penalties for Violating California Penal Code 485
Appropriation of lost property can be filed as an infraction, a misdemeanor or a felony. Charges depend on lost property value. In case the value is more than $950, the offense qualifies as a grand theft, which is a wobbler and can be prosecuted as either a felony of misdemeanor, depending on the defendant’s criminal history and the case circumstances.
Penalties for Misdemeanor Penal Code 485 Conviction
Penalties for misdemeanor Penal Code 485 conviction include the following:
- Up to one year in a county jail
- A fine up to $1,000
Penalties for Felony Penal Code 485 Conviction
Penalties for felony Penal Code 485 conviction include the following:
- Up to three years in California state prison
- A fine of up to $10,000.
If the total value of the lost property is $950 or less, the offense is classified as petty theft which is prosecuted as a misdemeanor with the following penalties:
- Up to six months in a county jail
- A fine of up to $1,000.
Infraction Penal Code 485 Appropriation Of Lost Property
If the defendant has no criminal history and the case circumstances are not that serious he can be charged with an infraction, with no jail time and the fine of up to $250 fine.
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