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What should you do with lost property?

| May 5, 2020 | Criminal Defense |

You have likely heard the term “finders keepers” repeated more than once in Kew Gardens, and despite its perceived adolescent connotation, believed in its legitimacy. If, for example, you find an item without having any distinguishable features to identify its owner, how are you to know who to return it to?

What if, however, law enforcement authorities (acting on behalf of the owner of said object) later accuse you of stealing it? Could such a claim be valid? The answer depends on your actions after having come into possession of the item.

Handling lost property

New York state law recognizes the following types of lost property:

  • Mislaid property: Items apparently left behind by an owner in error
  • Abandoned property: Items apparently abandoned by an owner
  • Waifs: Stolen items discarded by thieves
  • Treasure trove: Currency or other types of monetary items found hidden or stored for which you are unable to identify the owner

Per Section 252 of New York’s Consolidated Laws, if you come across such property, you are to make every effort to return it to its owner. If you cannot easily identify its owner, you should turn it in at the police station in the jurisdiction where you found it. You can also avoid criminal or civil liability by simply turning it into the property owner at the location where you found it.

What happens with lost property

When you turn lost property over to the police, they are to issue you a receipt confirming the deposit. If the owner is not found after three months, the property becomes yours (this applies to property valued at less than $100; the waiting period is 6 months, 1 year, and three years for items valued up to $500, $5000 or $5000 or more, respectively).


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