Penal Code 485 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to misappropriate lost property. The offense occurs when a person comes upon someone else’s lost property, and keeps it, despite there being clues identifying the rightful owner. Prosecutors can file the charge as a misdemeanor or a felony, and a conviction can be punished by up to 3 years in jail.
485 PC states that “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 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:
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 a person get a conviction expunged?
- 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 a person under PC 485:
- the defendant found lost property with clues identifying its true owner,
- the accused took the property for his own use, and
- the defendant did not make reasonable efforts to find the property’s original owner.1
Note that this crime is a separate and different offense than 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?
A defendant can challenge a misappropriation charge with a legal defense.
Three successful defenses often include:
- no intent to keep,
- reasonable efforts to find owner, and/or
- rightful owner of the property.
2.1. No intent to keep
Recall that a person is only guilty under this statute if he takes the lost property as his own. This means it is always a defense for a defendant to say that:
- while he may have had the lost property in his possession,
- he had no intent to keep it.
Perhaps, for example, an accused had lost property but was still trying to find its true owner.
2.2. Reasonable efforts to find the owner
This statute says that a person must take reasonable steps to find the property’s real owner. Therefore, it is a defense for an accused to say that he did take these steps. A defendant cannot be guilty if he
- kept lost property, but
- did so only after doing everything he 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, for a defendant to say that the property in question was not lost. Perhaps, for example, the accused himself was 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 a person get a conviction expunged?
A person can get a misappropriation conviction expunged.
For this to happen, though, the defendant must successfully complete his:
- probation, or
- jail term (whichever one was imposed).
In some cases, a defendant can even get an expungement if he committed a probation violation.
6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
A conviction under this statute may hurt a defendant’s gun rights.
California law says that convicted felons cannot:
- own a gun, or
- possess a gun.
- a defendant would lose his 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 for a person 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.”
A person commits this offense when he
- conceals, or
any property that he knows 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 for a person 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…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
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 485 PC.
- 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.