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PC 485 Theft of Lost Property (Law, Sentence, & Defense)

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

Information on the crime of Theft of Lost Property, also known as Appropriation of Lost Property, can be found at California penal code section 485, or (PC 485). The following article answers common questions related to the crime of Appropriation of Lost Property, including questions concerning interpretation of PC 485 law, related jail sentences and punishments, and the PC 485 common defenses.


Note: This article is not intended to serve as a substitute for legal advice from a criminal defense lawyer. No lawyer-client relationship is created by use of this information. In addition, we strive to keep this information current and accurate; however, criminal laws procedures periodically change and this information may not reflect current changes in PC 485 law. If you are charged with a crime you should contact a criminal defense lawyer without delay.


PC 485 Law: A person who finds lost property under circumstances which give him knowledge of, or means of inquiry, as to the true owner, and who appropriates such property to his own use, or to the use of another person not entitled to that property, without first making reasonable and just efforts to find the owner and to restore the property to him, is guilty of theft of lost property or appropriation of lost property (PC 485 Abbrev.).


Essentially, this means that if a person finds personal property, which appears from all the surrounding circumstances to be the lost property of another person, then it could be a crime for the person who finds the property to appropriate that property for himself.


Remember: It is not necessarily a crime for a person to keep lost property. It is only a crime if the lost property is 1) appropriated by the defendant, and 2) the defendant made no reasonable effort under the circumstances to locate the true owner of the property and restore that person's possession of the lost property before the defendant appropriated it. Whether or not the property could be restored to the rightful owner with reasonable efforts is determined by the totality of the circumstances.


To appropriate lost property means to keep the lost property with the intent to permanently deprive the true owner of that property, even if the defendant does not intend to use the lost property.

Example I: If the defendant sees another person inadvertently and unknowingly drop his wallet, and the defendant secretly and immediately recovers the wallet without making attempts to apprise the person who dropped the wallet of its discovery, then the defendant has likely violated PC 485 (Appropriation of Lost Property). This is because the defendant in this situation could have immediately returned the wallet to the person who dropped it (no effort needed to discover the true owner of the wallet).


Example II: If a person finds another person’s cell phone in a casino, and the person who finds the cell phone appropriates the phone without knowing the identity of the person who mislaid it, then the person who found the cell phone should make reasonable efforts to restore the cellphone to the true owner. This reasonable efforts could include giving the cellphone to the lost and found department of the casino, turning the phone over to a casino security guard, or other reasonable efforts made to locate the true owner of the cell phone. Failure to make these reasonable effort before appropriating the cell phone could lead to PC 485 criminal charges against the person who found it.

Example III: If a person finds a wallet with identification in the wallet then the person who finds the wallet must make reasonable efforts to either contact the person identified in the wallet, or deliver the wallet to law enforcement (or security at a shopping center). If the person who finds a wallet with enclosed identification fails to make reasonable efforts to return the wallet to the true owner then that person is probably in violation of PC 485 (Appropriated of Lost Property).


Example IV: If a person finds a twenty dollar bill in the middle of a large parking lot and the person who finds the cash has no idea who lost it, then the person who finds the cash is probably not in violation of PC 485. This is true even if the person who found the lost money makes no effort to find the true owner of the money. This is because the defendant in this situation probably has no idea who lost the money and the money itself has no identifying features that could indicate who lost it.


Important: The facts and circumstances of every PC 485 case are different. What could be considered a reasonable effort made by the defendant to find the true owner of lost property in one case might be considered insufficient effort in another case, even if the two cases are somewhat similar.


Note: Lost property is not required to be appropriated absent a duty to appropriate that property. In other words, just because property appears to be lost does not mean that a person must make attempts to find the true owner of that property unless the person who finds the property either appropriates the property (takes possession of it or moves it in some way), or he has a duty to appropriate it, such as a security guard in a mall.


For example, if a person sees another person inadvertently and unknowingly drop a wallet then the person who sees this event has no duty to warn the other person that he has lost his wallet. There is also no duty to turn the wallet over to law enforcement in this situation. This is true unless the person who sees this event actually takes possession of the wallet. Another example: If a person sees another person unknowingly drop a bunch of twenty dollar bills at an ATM, and the person who dropped the twenty dollars bills walks away from the cash without knowing that she has dropped the money, then there is no duty (and no illegality) on the part of the person who witnessed the event to apprise the other person of this fact unless the person who witness the event appropriates the cash or moves it in some way.


Remember: It is a crime to appropriate lost property even if the defendant intends to give the lost property to another person who the defendant knows is not the rightful owner of that property (PC 485).


PC 485 Punishment: Punishment for Appropriation of Lost Property ranges from jail or probation to penalty fines. Some punishments for violations of PC 485 are collateral to the court’s punishments, such as the loss of the right to enter in to the military upon arrest or conviction for PC 485. Below you will find the most common punishments associated with PC 485 crimes.


Note: Appropriation of Lost Property is classified as either Grand Theft of Lost Property or Petty Theft of Lost Property. Grand Theft of Lost Property, or PC485-F, is charged where the value of the property appropriated is more than $950 and Petty Theft of Lost Property, or PC485-M, is charged where the value of the property appropriated is $950 or less. The related punishment(s) for both Grand and Petty Theft of Lost Property is as follows.


Jail: If the defendant is found guilty of Grand Theft of Lost Property then the defendant could face up to three years in jail for a felony violation or up to one year in jail for a misdemeanor violation. If the defendant is found guilty of Petty Theft of Lost Property then the defendant could face up to one hundred eighty days in the county jail.


Note: Triad Sentencing for felony Grand Theft of Lost Property is 16 months, 2, or 3 years for Grand Theft of Lost Property (See below at Triad Sentencing for more information).


Triad Sentence for Felony PC 485: If the defendant is convicted of felony Grand Theft of Lost Property then he could face any of the following jail sentences: No jail probation sentence (see below at Probation Sentence), 16 months (low term jail sentence, also called “mitigated jail term”), 2 years (mid-term jail sentence), or 3 years (high term jail sentence, also called “aggravated jail term”). Whether or not the defendant receives a no-jail probation sentence, a low term, mid-term, or high term jail sentence after a PC 485 conviction depends on the facts of the case, the defendant’s criminal history, if any, and the terms of a negotiated plea bargain between the defendant and the district attorney, if any.


Note: As stated, Grand Theft of Lost Property may be charged as a felony or as misdemeanor crime. This means that Grand Theft of Lost Property is considered a wobbler crime in California. Sometimes, Grand Theft of Lost Property is initially charged as a felony crime, but later, the crime is reduced to a misdemeanor, either through a defense request to the court, or as part of a plea bargain between the defendant and the district attorney (PC 17(b)). For more information, see Wobbler Crimes & Misdemeanor v. Felony.


Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is period of supervision, as opposed to an actual in-custody jail sentence. Probation sentences are allowed in Theft or Appropriation of Lost Property cases after a criminal conviction, but a probation sentence is not guaranteed. Whether or not a defendant is granted a probation sentence after a conviction for PC 485 depends largely on the circumstances of the case, the defendant’s criminal history, if any, and the terms of a plea bargain between the defendant and the district attorney, if any, among other factors.


A probation sentence carries terms or conditions which must be followed in order to remain on probation. A violation of any of the terms or conditions of probation could result in a violation of probation allegation. A violation of probation could result in the defendant’s probation being terminated by the court and the defendant remanded into custody (jail). Common terms or conditions of probation in PC 485 cases include, but are not limited to, the following: violated no law, pay restitution to the victim(s), pay court fines and penalties, serve a work release or house arrest sentence, and more. Felony probation sentences are monitored by a probation officer, whereas misdemeanor probation sentences as monitored by the court. For more information, see Misdemeanor v. Felony Probation & Violation of Probation.


Note: A probation sentence can include a period of actual incarceration as a term or condition of probation; however, when incarceration is ordered as a term or condition of probation in a PC 485 case that incarceration period may usually be served alternatively via out-of-custody work release, house arrest, or some other community service type program. Also, when incarceration is ordered as a term or condition of probation, that incarceration period is usually much shorter than the sentence the defendant could have received if she was convicted of a PC 485 crime and did not receive a probation sentence. For example, if the defendant is convicted of PC485-F (Felony Grand Theft of Lost Property) and the defendant receives a probation sentence with a term of probation that orders the defendant to serve ninety days in the county jail, then that ninety days may usually be served alternately on work release, and the jail itself is much shorter than the three year maximum jail sentence that the defendant could have faced if probation was not granted. For more information, see Work Release and House Arrest.


PC 1170(h) Sentence: Felony Grand Theft of Property (PC485-F) is subject to California’s new PC 1170(h) sentencing law. In short, if the defendant is convicted of certain felonies, including PC 485, then the defendant might be entitled to have any jail sentence split (served partially in jail and partially out of jail on work release), or suspended (no jail sentence served unless the defendant violates a term of her out-of-custody sentence). In addition, any incarceration for a violation of PC 485 may be served in a local county jail, as opposed to a state prison.


PC 1170(h) sentencing might be available where a defendant does not receive a probation sentence. For example, if the defendant is convicted of felony Grand Theft of Lost Property, and the judge does not grant the defendant’s request for an out-of-custody probation sentence, then the defendant might be allowed to serve his jail sentence partially in jail and partially out of jail on work release. For more information, see PC 1170(h) Sentencing.


Diversion Sentence: Another sentencing option after a PC 485 conviction includes diversion sentencing. Diversion, in the criminal law, means to go around, or “divert” the prosecution process. In essence, diversion means that the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the crime in exchange for the court’s promise to dismiss the criminal allegations if the defendant complies with certain condition. The diversion conditions are similar to probation condition, such as the condition to commit no crime, pay fines, pay restitution, etc.


The difference between diversion and probation is that diversion results in no criminal record if the defendant complies with, and completes, the terms of diversion. On the other hand, a probation sentence is a criminal conviction regardless of whether or not the defendant complies with the terms of probation. Diversion is a great option in PC 485 cases where the evidence is fairly clear that the defendant is guilty of the allegation and the defendant is either professionally licensed or might otherwise suffer a job loss due to a criminal conviction.


Note: Diversion sentencing is not always offered to the defendant in a Theft of Lost Property case. Whether or not the defendant is offered a diversion sentence depends on the facts of the case, the defendant’s criminal history, if any, whether or not the defendant has previously diverted a crime in the five years prior to his current case, and the disposition of any plea agreement between the defendant and the district attorney. For more information, see Diversion in Criminal Court.


Three Strikes Law: Theft or Appropriation of Lost Property is not considered a strike offense under California’s Three Strikes Sentencing Law. In addition, PC 485 is not considered a serious or violent offense as those terms are defined in the California law at PC 1192.7 and PC 667.5, respectively. This means that the defendant may benefit from the early release options offered under Prop 57 if more than one other non-strike crime is alleged in addition to the PC 485 crime. For example, if the defendant is convicted of Grand Theft of Lost Property in addition to another non-strike crime, such as False Personation (use of the identity found in the lost property), then the defendant may be entitled to early release after serving the full term of his sentence for the PC 485 crime (no additional jail term for the False Personation conviction).


In addition, PC 485 convictions are subject to fifty percent good conduct credits. This means that the defendant may only have to serve up to fifty percent of her PC 485 jail sentence if she serves her jail sentence with good behavior. Also, it might be possible to have a PC 485 related jail sentence split pursuant to PC 1170(h) and to also have the remaining jail sentence subject to a fifty percent reduction for good behavior. For more information, see California’s Three Strikes Law, PC 1192.7, PC 667.5, & Prop 57.


CIMT: Theft of Lost Property, or PC 485, is considered a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). A crime involving moral turpitude is any crime that involves deceit or is otherwise considered morally wrong. As such, any conviction for a CIMT, including Appropriation of Lost Property, could lead to collateral punishments for licensed professionals (i.e. doctors, dentists, lawyers, therapist, teachers, nurses, etc.), non US citizens, and military personnel.


Licensed professionals who suffer a CIMT conviction could have their professional license revoked, placed on probation, suspended, or deemed ineligible. Non US citizens who suffer a CIMT conviction are more likely to be deported or denied reentry into the United States than defendants that are convicted of non-CIMT. Also, defendants seeking employment, or continued employment, with the armed services could be denied that employment (i.e. Space Force, Army, Marines, Merchant Marines, Navy, and Air Force). For more information, see Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude, Criminal Convictions and Licensed Professionals, Immigration Consequences for Criminal Convictions, & Military Service and Criminal Law.


Additional Punishments: In addition to the punishment(s) listed above, if the defendant is convicted of PC 485 (Appropriation of Lost Property), the defendant could face any of the following additional penalties: Court fines and penalties, book and release orders, violation of probation or parole (if the defendant was on probation or parole at the time of the PC 485 offense), restitution (repayment to the victim of the property value appropriated by the defendant), criminal protective orders (stay away orders), loss of the right to possess or own firearms (for felony Grand Theft of Lost Property convictions), and more.


Note: The scheduled bail amount for PC 485 is $25,000 (felony), or $5,000 (misdemeanor) [San Bernardino County 2020]. Bail is not considered a punishment but bail information is included in this section because the payment of bail is another collateral punishment (obligation) is some PC 485 cases.


In short, bail is an amount of money paid to the court, usually through a bail agent, in order to secure the defendant’s appearance in court. If the defendant fails to appear in court after being release on bail then the defendant could face a bail forfeiture and additional criminal allegations. If the defendant appears in court after being released on bail then the defendant may remain out of jail during the pendency of the criminal proceeding; however, any premium paid to a bail agent is not returned to the defendant. For more information, see Bailing out of Jail & Failure to Appear at Court.


PC 485 Defenses: Every PC 485 case is different; therefore, every defense to a PC 485 allegation is defense is different. With that said, the most common defenses to a criminal allegation of Appropriation of Lost Property include: Insufficient evidence to prove that the defendant did not intend to return to the lost property to the rightful owner, mistake of fact as to the ownership of the property, claim of right, entrapment, statute of limitations, intoxication, jury nullification (1 year for misdemeanor PC 485 and 3 years for felony PC 485), alibi defense, insanity, and more.


Note: The fact that a person takes lost property is not a crime unless the person who takes the lost property can reasonably return the property to its true owner and nevertheless fails to make that reasonable effort. But remember, while the defendant is making his reasonable effort to return the property he is going to have that property in his possession. The question, for purposes of criminal liability, is whether the defendant, while having the lost property in his possession, intended to make efforts to return that property to its rightful owner. That’s tough for the prosecutor to prove in many situations where there are no cameras to determine when the defendant came into possession of the lost property.


Post-Conviction Relief: If the defendant is convicted of PC 485 then he or she may be entitled to certain post-conviction relief options, including, appeal of the criminal conviction, early termination of probation, withdraw of a guilty plea, expungement, certificate of rehabilitation, restoration of gun rights, and more.


If you or a loved one is charged with Theft or Appropriation of Lost Property (PC 485) contact our criminal defense lawyers for a free consultation. Our criminal defense lawyers have successfully represented hundreds of defendants charged with all manner of felony and misdemeanor crimes, including PC 485 crimes. Our offices are located in San Bernardino County, in the city of Redlands, but we have traveled to all parts of California to defend defendants accused of California crimes. We offer free consultations and our lawyers are available every day of the week to assist you. Call today!


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