California Penal Code § 485 PC prohibits the misappropriation of lost property. This is a situation where you come upon someone else’s lost property, and you keep it, despite there being clues identifying the rightful owner.
Prosecutors can file the charge as
The crime may be referred to as
- theft of lost property,
- appropriation of lost property, or
- misappropriation of lost property.
The language of the statute reads:
485. One 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 thereto, without first making reasonable and just efforts to find the owner and to restore the property to him, is guilty of theft.
- keeping a colleague’s lost jacket when her full name is written inside.
- pocketing money after seeing it fall out of a woman’s purse.
- keeping a lost wallet when it has the owner’s ID in it.
It is often possible to fight this criminal charge in court. Common defenses include:
- no intent to keep,
- reasonable efforts to find owner, and/or
- the rightful owner of the property.
A violation of this code section is charged as either:
- a misdemeanor, or
- a felony
depending on the value of the lost property misappropriated.
A misdemeanor offense is punishable by custody in county jail for up to six months.
A felony crime is punishable by imprisonment in state prison for up to three years.
In lieu of jail time, a judge can award either:
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. When is the misappropriation of lost property a crime?
- 2. Are there legal defenses?
- 3. What are the penalties for 485 PC?
- 4. Are there immigration consequences?
- 5. Can I get a conviction expunged from my criminal record?
- 6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
- 7. Are there related offenses?
1. When is the misappropriation of lost property a crime?
A prosecutor must prove the following to convict you under PC 485:
- you found lost property with clues identifying its true owner,
- you took the property for your own use, and
- you did not make reasonable efforts to find the property’s original owner.1
Note that this crime is a separate and different offense from receiving stolen property.2 The latter is illegal per Penal Code 496 PC.
Example: Jose finds a wallet in a bar. It contains cash, credit cards, and the owner’s driver’s license. Jose chooses not to talk to the bartender about any patrons that could have been sitting by the wallet. He also does not look up the name on the ID and credit cards to see if he can find a phone number or address of the wallet’s owner.
Here, Jose is guilty of misappropriation of lost property. He had clues to help find the wallet’s owner, but he took no reasonable efforts to follow them. Rather, he took the wallet for his own use.
2. Are there legal defenses?
You can challenge a misappropriation charge with a legal defense.
Three successful defenses often include:
- no intent to keep,
- reasonable efforts to find the owner, and/or
- rightful owner of the property.
If the D.A. cannot prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the charge should be dismissed.
2.1. No intent to keep
Recall that you are only guilty under this statute if you take the lost property as your own. This means it is always a defense to say that:
- while you may have had the lost property in your possession,
- you had no intent to keep it.
Perhaps, for example, you had lost property but were still trying to find its true owner.
2.2. Reasonable efforts to find the owner
This statute says that you must take reasonable steps to find the property’s real owner. Therefore, it is a defense to say that you did take these steps. You are not guilty if you
- kept lost property, but
- did so only after doing everything you could to try and find its owner.
2.3. Rightful owner of the property
Misappropriation laws only apply to lost property. It is a defense, then, to say that the property in question was not lost. Perhaps, for example, you were the rightful owner of it.
3. What are the penalties for 485 PC?
A violation of Penal Code 485 PC is treated as either:
depending on the value of the property taken.
The crime is charged as petty theft if the value of the property was $950 or less. Petty theft is punishable by:
- imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.3
Misappropriation is charged as grand theft if the value of the property was greater than $950.
Grand theft is a wobbler offense. This means it can be charged as either:
- a misdemeanor, or
- a felony.
The maximum sentence for misdemeanor grand theft is up to one year in county jail.4
A conviction of felony grand theft can result in up to three years in jail.5
4. Are there immigration consequences?
A conviction of false personation will likely not have immigration consequences.
Some California crimes can mean that a non-citizen defendant gets:
An example is a conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude.
The misappropriation of lost property, however, is not one of these crimes.6
5. Can I get a conviction expunged from my criminal record?
You can get a misappropriation conviction expunged.
For this to happen, though, you must successfully complete your:
- probation, or
- jail term (whichever one was imposed).
In some cases, you can even get an expungement of the criminal history if you committed a probation violation.
6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
A conviction under this statute may hurt your gun rights.
California law says that convicted felons cannot:
- own a gun, or
- possess a gun.
- you would lose your California gun rights
- if a misappropriation charge led to a felony grand theft conviction.
7. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to the misappropriation of lost property. These are:
- petty theft – PC 488,
- receiving stolen property – PC 496, and
- shoplifting – PC 459.5.
7.1. Petty theft – PC 488
Penal Code 488 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to:
- steal someone’s property or services, when
- they are worth $950 or less.
Petty theft applies to both:
- lost property, and
- an owner’s rightful property.
7.2. Receiving stolen property – PC 496
Penal Code 496 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of “receiving stolen property.”
You commit this offense when you
- conceal, or
any property that you know to be stolen.
Note that PC 485 pertains to lost property, while this statute involves stolen property.
7.3. Shoplifting – PC 459.5
Penal Code 459.5 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of “shoplifting.”
This section makes it a crime to:
- enter an open business, and
- do so with the intent to steal merchandise worth $950 or less.
Note that both PC 488 and PC 459.5 are limited to property of a value of $950 or less.
For additional help…
Arrested by law enforcement on theft charges? For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. Our DUI/criminal defense lawyers have criminal law offices in Los Angeles and throughout the state.
For information on misappropriation in Nevada, please see our article on “Nevada Laws re Theft of Lost Property (NRS 205.0832(d).”
- California Penal Code section 485 PC. See, for example In re. A.R. (Cal. App. 4th Dist., 2018) 24 Cal. App. 5th 1076; Blakes v. Superior Court (Cal. App. 3d Dist., 2021) 72 Cal. App. 5th 904.
- People v. Moses (1990) 217 Cal.App.3d 1245.
- California Penal Code 19 PC.
- California Penal Code 489.
- See same.
- See Sheikh v. Holder (2010), 379 Fed. Appx. 697, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 10301.