Updated July 1, 2020
People who take another person’s lost property with no intention or effort to return it to the owner face Nevada theft charges. The law requires finders of lost property must make reasonable efforts to track down the owners before they can keep the property for themselves.
Typical defenses to Nevada charges of “theft of lost property” include:
- lack of knowledge that the property was lost, or
- no intention to permanently keep the property
People convicted of stealing lost property face incarceration, fines, and Nevada victim restitution.
Scroll down for more information about the Nevada offense of appropriation of lost property. Our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers go into detail about the crime’s definition, defenses, and penalties.
Definition of “Theft of Lost Property” in Nevada
The legal definition of “theft of lost property” in Nevada is when a person knowingly and without lawful authority “comes into control of lost, mislaid or misdelivered property of another person…and appropriates that property to his or her own use or that of another person without reasonable efforts to notify the true owner.”1
In short, people who find property they know is lost may not keep the property unless they make “reasonable efforts” to reunite the property with the owner. This also goes for property that is mistakenly mailed or delivered to the wrong recipient…it is still the recipient’s duty to try to find the rightful owner before he/she can lawfully keep the property. Henderson criminal defense attorney Michael Becker illustrates how Nevada’s lost property law works:
Example: Cindy has a party at her Henderson house where a hundred friends and friends of friends come over. Afterwards, she finds a pair of Chopard sunglasses that one of the guests left my mistake. Cindy honestly has no idea whom the glasses belong to, but she figures “finders keepers, losers weepers” and keeps them for herself. Meanwhile, the owner of the sunglasses reports them missing to the police. If the police discover Cindy kept the sunglasses without trying to return them to the rightful owner, they could arrest her and book her at the Henderson Detention Center.
In the above example, it does not matter that Cindy found the sunglasses in her own home and not in public. Nor does it matter that Cindy honesty does not know who the sunglasses belonged to. By finding the sunglasses in her own home, she knowingly came into possession of them. Therefore she had the obligation to make reasonable efforts to find the owner before she could keep the sunglasses. Considering Cindy’s party was attended by her friends and friends of friends, reasonable efforts would probably include:
- sending out a mass email to the people she knew were at the party with instructions to forward it to their friends who attended the party, and/or
- posting about the sunglasses on her Facebook page with a request that her friends “share” the post, and/or
- giving the sunglasses to the police and letting them handle finding the owner
Note that Cindy would have the same obligation to try to find the true owner even if the sunglasses were inexpensive. Also note that if Cindy never found the sunglasses because they were left under a couch or in some other inconspicuous area, then Cindy should not be liable for theft because she never knowingly came into control of the sunglasses.
Finding owners of lost property
Some lost property contains no information about the owner. Examples include a sweater, or a cell phone with a passcode. But if someone finds such unmarked property and takes possession of it, the finder is still obligated to make reasonable efforts to reach the owner. Typical ways a finder of lost property can find the true owner include the following:
- Submitting a post on Craig’s List “Lost and Found”,
- Turning the property over to the local “lost & found,” if there is one,
- Putting up flyers in the area where the item was found, and/or
- Posting about it on social media such as Facebook or Twitter.
Some lost property contains explicit information about the owner. A common example is a wallet, which usually holds an ID, credit cards, and other identifying information. If someone find such lost property and takes possession of it, the finder is obligated to make reasonable efforts to find the owner. In today’s internet age, it is quick and easy to track down most anyone and to contact them through any of the following:
- email, and/or
- social media
Note that if the lost property includes illegal drugs, contraband, or other unlawful items, the finder should avoid taking possession of it and instead contact law enforcement. And if the lost property is a pet, the finder may want to consider bringing it to a local animal shelter unless the finder has the time and resources to provide a good temporary home for it.
Bait-purse stings in Las Vegas
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police routinely plant valuable objects in public places in an effort to arrest thieves. Henderson criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse gives an example of one of these “bait-purse stings” in Nevada:
Example: Darrel is walking through Jerry’s Nugget when he sees a lady’s handbag on the floor. Then he furtively sneaks up on the purse, looks around to see if anyone is watching him, and quickly hides it in his jacket before slinking off. An undercover officer who was observing Darrel then arrests him and books him for theft of lost property at the Clark County Detention Center.
In the above example, Darrel’s actions of staking out the purse, sneaking up to it, and hiding it in his jacket suggest that he meant to keep the purse for himself. And the fact this behavior was observed by the cops and probably recorded on surveillance video would serve as further evidence against him. Had Darrel openly taken and carried the purse away, his defense attorney could argue that Darrel was just being a good Samaritan and was in the process of bringing the purse to a security officer or a lost and found. Learn more about the Nevada crime of bait purse theft.
Possession of stolen property in Nevada
Theft of lost property is a separate offense from the Nevada crime of possession of stolen property. These crimes are similar except in one respect…possession of stolen property occurs when someone takes control of property that he/she knows was stolen as opposed to lost. But the potential penalties for these two theft offenses are the same (discussed below).2
Statute of limitations for theft in Nevada
If a person keeps lost property without making reasonable efforts to find the owner, there is a limited amount of time that a Nevada D.A. can press theft charges against the finder:
- If the lost property is valued at less than $1,200, the prosecution may bring charges within one year from the time the person finds the lost property.
- If the lost property is valued at $1,200 or higher, the prosecution may bring charges within four years from the time the person finds the lost property.3
Defenses to “Theft of Lost Property” in Nevada
There are two common defense strategies for fighting charges of “theft of lost property” in Nevada:
- No knowledge of the property’s owner. When the finder of lost property takes all reasonable measures to track down the owner, that person should not be convicted in Nevada for keeping the property if the owner never turns up. The finder should just keep detailed records of all his/her efforts to reach the owner; otherwise, police and prosecutors have no way of knowing whether the finder is telling the truth.
- Intent to return property to owner. Temporarily taking someone else’s lost property is not criminal in Nevada as long as the taker has the intention of returning it to the rightful owner. Indeed, it may be necessary to temporarily take possession of the lost property in order to safeguard it while looking for the owner. But the taker should be careful not to keep the property for too long before seeking out the owner…otherwise, it might appear to law enforcement that the taker had no intention of ever returning it.
Penalties for “Theft of Lost Property” in Nevada
As with most Nevada theft crimes, the punishment for stealing lost property increases with the value of the items taken.4
The sentence for shoplifting depends on the value of the goods stolen:
|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 | 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.
3NRS 171.085 Limitations for felonies.
Except as otherwise provided in NRS 171.080, 171.083, 171.084 and 171.095, an indictment for:
1. Theft, robbery, burglary, forgery, arson, sexual assault, sex trafficking, a violation of NRS 90.570, a violation punishable pursuant to paragraph (c) of subsection 3 of NRS 598.0999 or a violation of NRS 205.377 must be found, or an information or complaint filed, within 4 years after the commission of the offense.
2. Any felony other than the felonies listed in subsection 1 must be found, or an information or complaint filed, within 3 years after the commission of the offense.
NRS 171.090 Limitations for gross and simple misdemeanors.
Except as otherwise provided in NRS 171.095, 202.885 and 624.800, an indictment for:
1. A gross misdemeanor must be found, or an information or complaint filed, within 2 years after the commission of the offense.
2. Any other misdemeanor must be found, or an information or complaint filed, within 1 year after the commission of the offense.
5. In addition to any other penalty, the court shall order the person who committed the theft to pay restitution.