A bait purse sting in Las Vegas, Nevada, is when police plant purses, wallets, or similar items on casino grounds in an effort to catch would-be thieves. People who find and takes this bait for themselves face charges for possession of lost property (NRS 205.0832(d)). The punishment for this theft offense depends on the value of the property taken.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What are bait-purse stings in Nevada?
- 2. What are the penalties?
- 3. How can defendants fight the charges?
1. What are 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:
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.
2. What are the penalties?
The higher the value of a bait purse and its contents, the harsher the Nevada punishment is for stealing it.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|
3. How can defendants fight the charges?
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:
Example: 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 the chance of getting the charge dropped.
In California? See our article on theft or appropriation of lost property | California Penal Code 485 PC.
- NRS 205.0832.
- NRS 205.0835.