There’s an adage that goes, “Finders, keepers; losers, weepers.” It refers to the premise that if someone finds an unclaimed or lost item, they can keep it for themselves.
While this might sound like a reasonable enough rule, it’s a criminal offense in Georgia to misappropriate lost property. Depending on the value of the items stolen, or how many times an offender violated the law, the penalties for the crime can increase.
Theft without reasonable measures
Per state law, it’s an offense to steal lost or misplaced property, particularly if the person who found the item knows or later learns it to be missing and failed to take reasonable measures to return the property to the owner.
These reasonable measures may include running after the original owner of the misplaced item and bringing the item to a lost-and-found facility or a nearby police station.
Misappropriating a stolen item is normally charged as a misdemeanor, but certain factors can change the offense’s criminal grade.
Penalties for theft of lost items
If you’re convicted of theft of lost or mislaid property, you’ll face up to a year in jail and as much as $1,000 in fines. But depending on the value of the item stolen or the number of your prior convictions for the same offense, your punishments can become more severe:
- Value of stolen property over $24,999.99: A conviction will lead to a maximum 20-year prison sentence
- Value of stolen property at least $5,000, but less than $25,000: A conviction will lead to up to 10 years of prison time
- Value of stolen property at least $1,500.01, but less than $5,000: A conviction will lead to up to five years of prison time
- You have two prior convictions for theft of lost items: The offense gets upgraded into a felony, and on conviction, you face up to five years of prison
It might be tempting to take an item that you think its original owner might never come back for. However, know that you’re committing a crime by state law. Even if the items you took were of little value, you’d have a misdemeanor on your criminal record on conviction. If you face charges, carefully consider your legal options.