There is a clear distinction between the types of theft involving lost or stolen property. According to that distinction, the punishment of theft involving lost property is not the same as of the theft involving stolen property.

Theft Involving Lost Property

Keeping lost property can be qualified as theft if the finder could reasonably return the property to its actual owner. For example, if someone (the finder) is walking along the street and finds some amount of money lost by somebody, the finder would not be guilty of theft if he kept it. However, the situation is different when someone (the finder) is walking along the street and sees how somebody drops the money when he is getting out of the car. The money owner doesn’t notice that he has dropped the money and keeps up walking away. The finder would be guilty of theft if he took the money and kept it. This is the case when the finder could return found property to the actual owner. The finder knows that the property belongs to the man got out from that car and can easily return it to him. From the legal point of view, the finder is guilty of theft because he keeps property belonging to that man.

Theft Involving Stolen Property

California law (Penal Code 496) considers every person as guilty of theft if she or he buys or keeps stolen property that has been obtained in any manner constituting theft or extortion. The defendant is guilty if:

  • He received, sold, concealed, withheld, bought or helped in selling stolen property;
  • He had an intention to commit an unlawful act;
  • The property under the defendant’s possession is stolen or obtained in a manner of extortion and the defendant is aware of that.

The defendant who possesses stolen property owner of which is another person could be guilty of theft even if he didn’t touch it. It is enough for the defendant, who has control over the stolen property, to be considered as guilty of theft.