Have you Been Charged with Theft of Lost or Mislaid Property in Georgia?
Under Georgia laws, most theft crimes carry punishments of both confinement and fines. With complex theft laws and legal processes, it is critical to retain counsel to represent you. Lawson and Berry and their team of Georgia Theft Attorneys are knowledgeable about theft laws. It is crucial to have an expert on your side. Do not assume you can handle your own case successfully. Call our office 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a free consultation.
Georgia Law O.C.G.A. §16-8-6 reads as follows:
A person commits the offense of theft of lost or mislaid property when he comes into control of property that he knows or learns to have been lost or mislaid and appropriates the property to his own use without first taking reasonable measures to restore the property to the owner.
Many people follow the saying “finders keepers, losers weepers” but actually that could result in a criminal charge.
The key thing with this type of theft is whether or not the suspect knew the property was lost or mislaid. If a person has in their possession something that they were unaware was stolen but they find out later that the item was lost or mislaid, then they are not allowed to keep the item. As soon as you discover that the property is lost and you decide not to return it, then criminal intent appears. However, once you realize the property is stolen, as long as you take reasonable measures to return the property, then you will not face criminal charges. While there is no defined standard for reasonable measures, the Court will look at whether there was an effort to find the owner. An example is if you found a watch in the parking lot. If you wait around for one minute to see if the owner is coming back and then decide to claim it as your own, the Court will likely find that you did not take reasonable measures to return the item.
An example of theft of lost or mislaid property can be found in Shannon v. State. 258 Ga. App. 689, (2002). The victim misplaced a bank deposit bag containing checks, deposit slips, and over $500 cash while walking from a shopping mall to their car. The defendant, Shannon, testified that she was with a friend and they found the bag and took it home with them. Two days later, Shannon drove her friend to a local check cashing business and attempted to cash one of the checks. An employee of the business called the victim who called the police, and Shannon was arrested. Shannon admitted during trial that she never attempted to return the bag to the rightful owner. Therefore, the Court found beyond a reasonable doubt that Shannon committed the offense of theft of mislaid property and she was convicted.
What Must be Proven to be Convicted
To be convicted of theft of lost or mislaid property the prosecution must demonstrate that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the State's job to prove that the accused knew that the property had been lost or mislaid and did not take reasonable measures to return the property. As stated before, there is not a set standard for what constitutes reasonable steps. The judge or jury will consider the particular case and determine if the defendant's actions met the standard of reasonable measures.
Penalty for Theft of Lost or Mislaid Property in Georgia
As with other theft crimes, whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony depends on the value of the money or property stolen. If the property stolen is valued at less than $1,500, then you will be charged with misdemeanor theft of lost or mislaid property. On the other hand, if the money or property is assessed at more than $1,500, you will likely be facing felony charges. A judge has the discretion to deem a crime a misdemeanor, even if it the money or property converted was over $1,500. Every judge is different, and our Georgia Theft of Lost or Mislaid Property Lawyers will ensure that you have the best defense possible and that you receive fair treatment throughout the trial process.
The penalty for a misdemeanor charge of theft of lost or mislaid property includes a fine of no more than $1,000 and a sentence of no more than 12 months confinement. If a defendant receives a jail sentence of six months or less, the judge has the ability and discretion to allow the sentence to be served via weekend confinement or during the defendant's nonworking hours.
When the theft involves property valued between $1,500 and $5,000, it is considered a felony punishable by a jail term between 1 and five years. However, the judge does have the discretion to charge it as a misdemeanor.
For property valued between $5,000 and $25,000, the judge has the discretion to treat it as a misdemeanor or a felony charge punishable by a jail term between one and ten years.
If the property was valued at $25,000 or more, it will be treated as a felony, punishable by a prison term between two and twenty years.
If a defendant has already had two convictions of theft of lost or mislaid property, upon a 3rd or subsequent conviction, the defendant will be guilty of a felony, punished by a prison term between one and five years. However, the judge does have the discretion to treat it is a misdemeanor.
There are additional circumstances in which theft is punished as a felony in Georgia. These include:
- If the theft was any amount of anhydrous ammonia, the punishment will be a prison term between one and ten years, a fine, or both.
- Theft of government or bank property by an employee. If found guilty of this, the consequence is a one to 15-year prison sentence and/or a fine.
- Theft involving a gravesite or cemetery decoration. This carries a punishment of one to three years in prison.
- Theft of grave market, monument, or memorial to one or more deceased persons who served in the military or a monument, plague, market, or memorial dedicated to military service. If the property taken was $1,000 or less, the penalty is a prison term between one and three years. If the property taken was more than $1,000, then the consequences is a prison term between three and five years.
A felony charge of theft of lost or mislaid property comes with a prison term of no less than one year and no more than ten years. The consequences of having a felony charge can be quite extensive including making it difficult to get a job.
In addition to a prison sentence or fine, there are other consequences of committing theft. The person you stole from could bring a civil action against you for damages. They could sue you and recover monetary damages. The monetary damages could include:
- Compensatory damages which would include the value of the property and any other loss sustained as a result of the theft
- Liquidated exemplary damages amounting to $150 or twice the value of the loss (as long as the total amount is less than $5,000)
- Or the costs of bringing the suit against you
- Restitution damages for any damages or harm that came to the victims because of your actions.
Defenses to Theft of Lost or Mislaid Property in Georgia
I took reasonable measures to return the property to the owner: As long as you can demonstrate that you attempted to find the owner to no avail, then you will have a valid defense. For example, you found a watch in the parking lot at the mall. Reasonable measures could include checking to see if there is a lost and found at the mall or notifying security to make an announcement over the intercom system of a missing watch. Also, waiting around for an hour or so to see if the rightful owner comes looking for it would be a reasonable measure.
Acting under an honest claim of right to the property: If you believed that the property did in fact belong to you, then that is an affirmative defense under O.C.G.A. § 16-8-10.
The property was not valued at more than $1,500: Whether your crime will be treated as a felony or a misdemeanor depends on the value of the property stolen. Furthermore, your Georgia Theft Attorney will make sure that the property is valued correctly. Testimony by the owner concerning the purchase price without any other evidence will be insufficient evidence to establish that the value of the item or items exceeded $500. Denson v. State. 240 Ga. App. 207, (1999). Also, the cost of the property to the owner is not the final determinate on whether the offense is punishable as a felony or misdemeanor. Baker v. State, 234 Ga. App. 846, (1998). One of the recognized ways to establish value is the fair market cash value either at the time and place of the theft or any stage during the receipt or concealment of the property. Baker v. State.
Innocence: If you have an alibi or witness testimony proving that you did not commit the crime, that evidence will be vital to you in court. Your Lawyer will use this evidence to help you receive an acquittal.
What are not Defenses
I waited a reasonable amount of time before I began using it as my own: The statute does not say that you have to wait for a reasonable about of time before you claim the time; instead, it says that you have to take reasonable measures to return the item to the rightful owner. Therefore, just waiting around without attempting to contact the owner will not be a sufficient defense and you will be convicted of theft of lost or mislaid property.
I didn't know it was lost or mislaid: Similarly to the case described above, ignorance of the fact that the bag was lost will not be a valid defense. Refusal to acknowledge that the property was mislaid when a reasonable person would have known will result in a conviction.
A conviction for theft of lost or mislaid property could have grave consequences as explained above. It is critical that you have an experienced Georgia Theft of Lost or Mislaid Property Attorney to navigate the ins and outs of the laws regarding the theft of lost or mislaid property. Your Lawyer will help defend you against the charges and protect your valuable legal and civil rights. They will be with you every step of the way and they are dedicated to your case. That means they can be reached anytime- days, nights, and weekends. Contact a Theft of Lost or Mislaid Property Attorney in Georgia today to schedule a consultation. Don't wait to call because a theft of lost or mislaid property conviction will have serious consequences.