It’s an amazing day! You are walking through the parking lot of your favorite restaurant when you see a nice wallet with some hundred dollar bills sticking out of it. You rush over, pick it up, and look inside.
Inside you find a business card and a driver’s license with a name that matches the name on the business card. There are also five $100 dollar bills! You cannot believe your luck! What is that rule again, Finders Keepers?
Well, not so fast! In Illinois, you could be charged with a little-known law called, Theft of Lost or Mislaid Property under 720 ILCS 5-16-2. If you would rather hear about the explanation click here.
I am sure you know what theft is, but you are probably wondering what is considered “lost” property and what is considered “mislaid” property?
Without getting super technical, let’s take a moment to discuss the definitions of “lost” and “mislaid” property under this law.
Mislaid property is property that is intentionally placed somewhere but then forgotten. Imagine that you are shopping and have a lot of bags. You go into the restroom, place your purse and bags on the hook, and your wallet on the tissue dispenser. When finished, you gather all the bags and your purse, but forget to grab your wallet from the tissue dispenser. In this case, your wallet is considered to be mislaid property.
Property is lost when the owner is unintentionally separated from their property. Using our shopping example again, imagine that you are shopping at Gurnee Mills Mall. You go back out to your car, check your purse and realize that your wallet is missing! In this case, your wallet is lost.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what “lost” or “mislaid” property is in this context, let’s discuss what is considered to be theft of lost or mislaid property.
What is theft of “lost” or “mislaid” property?
What is theft of lost or mislaid property and when does one commit this crime? A person commits theft of lost or mislaid property when he or she obtains control over the property and the following three things are also present:
- He or she knows or learns of the identity of the owner or knows, or is aware of, or learns of a reasonable way to I.D. the owner and;
- He or she does not make reasonable efforts to get the property back to the owner and;
- He or She plans on keeping the items for himself/herself.
Going back to our lost wallet example, let’s pretend you are the person that finds the wallet. You find the wallet in the Macy’s department store, inside of the bathroom.
You look inside the wallet and see the business card, a driver’s license, and $500.00 in cash. Seeing no one else in the bathroom you decide that you will keep both the wallet and the cash.
You leave the mall and take all your friends out for drinks with the money, and throw away everything in the wallet to make room for your own stuff. Theft of lost or mislaid property? Possibly.
In this example, there is identification as well as a business card. It could be argued that there is clearly a reasonable way to identify the owner of the wallet. Second, you have found it inside of the Macy’s bathroom. The prosecution may argue that at this point you could have turned the wallet over to Macy’s lost and found department. Lastly, you spend the money and start using the wallet as your own. This could be seen as evidence of your intention to never return the wallet to the true owner.
Possible Penalties for Theft of Lost Mislaid Property
What are the penalties for theft of lost or mislaid property in Illinois? The severity of the potential maximum sentences for theft of lost or mislaid property depends on the value of the item alleged to be taken. Here is a handy chart:
|Property Value||Max Jail Time||Max Fine|
|Less than $500.00||Six Months||$1500.00|
|$10,000 or More||1-3 Years||$25,000|
In the past, theft of lost or mislaid property was considered a petty offense, meaning no jail time. Possibly, due to the increased value in cellular phones, which people often lose or misplace, the legislature decided to make this law a crime to encourage people to return them when found. The takeaway here is that it may not be worth following the “finders keepers” rule on the chance that you could possibly be charged with this crime.
If you or someone you know finds themselves charged with this offense, it is very important that you contact an attorney. Most criminal defense attorneys, including Attorney Anisa Jordan who has offices in Waukegan, IL as well as Arlington Heights, IL, offer free consultations. During a consultation, Attorney Anisa Jordan will talk to you about the specific facts of your case and discuss any potential defense you may have.
The information in this post is intended for informational purposes only and cannot and should not be construed as legal advice to any party.