Nevada police routinely plant purses or wallets in casinos in an effort to catch would-be thieves. Anyone who finds and takes these “bait” items for themselves face charges for the Nevada crime of possession of lost property.
Typical defenses in Nevada “bait purse” charges include:
- The finder did not realize that the property was lost or did not belong to him/herself, or
- The finder did not intend to permanently keep the property
The punishment under Nevada theft law for taking a bait purse depends on the value of the purse and its contents.
Continue reading for more information about the Nevada offense of bait purse theft. Our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers discuss the crime’s definition, defenses, and penalties.
Definition of “Bait Purse Stings” in Nevada
In the same way that Las Vegas Metropolitan Police conduct drug stings and prostitution stings, they also carry out “bait purse stings.” A bait purse sting is when law enforcement plants a purse or other valuable item in public places--usually casinos--in an effort to trap would-be thieves. The purse (“bait”) often contains several hundred dollars in cash, and the bait is almost always placed in an area under video surveillance.
If someone comes across one of these bait items in Nevada, it is a crime to take it for him/herself without reasonable efforts to notify the true owner.1 And in casinos, the best way to notify the owner is to turn the property over to security. Laughlin criminal defense attorney Michael Becker illustrates how bait purse cases often play out:
Example: Thom is walking through Green Valley Ranch when he notices a wallet just lying on a seat in front of a slot machine. He immediately stops and scopes the area to see if anyone is looking. Then he figures, “Finders, keepers,” and he quickly walks by the slot machine, where he snatches up the wallet and stuffs it in his pocket. Then he races out the door to his car. Security is watching and presume by Thom’s secretive behavior that he intends to keep the wallet for himself. So they run after him before he can drive off, arrest him, and book him at Henderson Detention Center for bait purse theft.
In the above example, it does not matter if Thom genuinely believed he had a legal right to the wallet. The mere act of taking possession of property he knew was lost and keeping it for himself qualifies as theft in Nevada. Thom could have avoided prosecution had he taken the wallet to security or looked through the wallet for an ID in order to contact the owner because that shows an intent to return the wallet.
Defenses to “Bait Purse Theft” in Nevada
Two common defense strategies for fighting Nevada charges of “bait purse theft” are the following:
- No knowledge that the property belonged to someone else. Many Nevada casino patrons drink, so it is not surprising that some inebriated people may see a stray purse or wallet and innocently take it without realizing what they are doing. Perhaps in their intoxicated state, they genuinely believe the purse belongs to them. As long as the prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the property did not belong to him/her, the bait purse charge should be dismissed.
- No intent to keep the property. Temporarily taking possession of a bait purse or wallet is not illegal as long as the taker intends to return it to the rightful owner. Laughlin criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse gives an example of how a person can escape prosecution after taking a “bait purse” in Nevada:
Anya is walking through Caesar’s Forum Shops when she notices a purse on the floor by one of the columns. She then picks up the purse and heads towards the front desk to give it to their lost-and-found. She holds the purse out in front of her as she walks so she is clearly not hiding it. Before she can reach the front desk however, the police who planted the purse stop her, arrest her, and book her at the Clark County Detention Center for bait-purse theft. But then Anya’s defense attorney shows the D.A. surveillance video of Anya holding the purse in a conspicuous way and walking in the direction of the lost-and-found. This persuades the D.A. that Anya had no intent to keep the purse, and the state declines to press charges.
Note that good Samaritans who take possession of a bait purse with the intention of handing it over to casino security should take care not to keep the purse any longer than necessary. Keeping bait items for a lengthy period appears suspicious and may hurt his/her chance of getting the charge dropped.
Penalties for “Bait Purse Theft” in Nevada
The higher the value of a bait purse and its contents, the harsher the punishment is for stealing it in Nevada.2
|Value of stolen property||Punishment in Nevada|
|Less than $1,200||Misdemeanor:|
|$1,200 to less than $5,000||category D felony|
|$5,000 to less than $25,000||category C felony|
|$25,000 to less than $100,000||category B felony|
|$100,000 or more||category B felony|
For information on the California crime of theft or appropriation of lost property | California Penal Code 485 PC, see our page on California crime of theft or appropriation of lost property | California Penal Code 485 PC.
1NRS 205.0832 Actions which constitute theft.
1. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2, a person commits theft if, without lawful authority, the person knowingly:
(d) Comes into control of lost, mislaid or misdelivered property of another person under circumstances providing means of inquiry as to the true owner and appropriates that property to his or her own use or that of another person without reasonable efforts to notify the true owner.
5. In addition to any other penalty, the court shall order the person who committed the theft to pay restitution.