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Can I be guilty of theft if I find property? The offence of larceny by finding

Imagine, you’re walking along the path on a dark night. You come across a wallet on the floor. You pick the wallet up and it contains a few thousand dollars. Looking around, there is no one else in sight. You decide to take the wallet with you and you keep the money. Can you be guilty of larceny by finding?

The short answer is, yes, you can be found guilty of larceny by finding. The offence of Larceny is a serious criminal offence and carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment.

You might think that the primary school playground defence of “finders keepers” is applicable at law. But a person can be found guilty of larceny by finding (theft) simply by taking property that they have found.

However, not every case of finding will amount to larceny by finding. What the police must prove in a case of larceny by finding is the mental element of fraud or dishonesty in addition to all of the other elements of larceny.

Therefore, the key question in a case of larceny by finding is the person’s state of mind, at the time of finding and taking the property. Was the person acting dishonestly or fraudulently when they took the property?

Acting dishonesty or fraudulently is an essential element that the police must prove for a person to be guilty of larceny by finding. This must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

If a person:

  • finds property which is lost, or reasonably thought to be lost, and
  • at the time of finding the property, they genuinely and honestly believe that the owner of the property cannot be found,

then the person cannot be guilty of larceny. This is because it cannot be said they have acted dishonestly or fraudulently.

To establish that the person held this genuine and honest belief they must prove they took reasonable steps to locate the owner of the property.

To make this concept easier to understand, let’s take a look at some fictional examples:

 

Example 1

A person is in the middle of the Australian Outback, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town and they find a $100 note on the floor. It will be difficult for the Police to suggest that the person acted dishonestly or fraudulently if they kept the money. In this circumstance, it would generally not be necessary for the person to give evidence.

 

Example 2

Let’s take the same Outback scenario from above. This time, the $100 note was contained in a handbag that also included a form of identification. For example, theID was a sports club membership that had the name “Mary Jane”.

If the person did not take reasonable steps to locate “Mary Jane”, they can be found guilty of larceny by finding.

Alternatively, say the person contacted the two nearest police stations and made enquiries about whether a “Mary Jane” had reported a handbag lost or stolen. Additionally, they made enquiries with the relevant sports club, and despite those attempts, no one came forward.

If the person kept the $100, it would not amount to larceny by finding.

 

A real life example of larceny by finding

When a 22-year-old university student in Alfred Boyagdis ended his night at McDonald’s, the last thing he expected to come across was a bag full of cash. $11,700 to be exact.

CCTV captured Mr Boyagdis looking inside the bag a number of times before quickly exiting the restaurant with the bag.

Mr Boyagdis made no attempt to locate the owner of the bag or to hand it in to either the restaurant or to the Police.

However, it wasn’t difficult for the police to find Mr Boyagdis, given that he had paid for his meal with a key card in his own name. The police charged Mr Boyagdis with larceny.

Mr Boyagdis was convicted with larceny after pleading guilty. He then received a 12-month good behaviour bond.

 

The prosecution must prove that a person acted fraudulently or dishonestly when they took the property. To do this, they will need to prove that the accused did not take all reasonable steps to locate the owner.

Whether a person took all reasonable steps is a question of fact that needs to be assessed on a case by case basis.

Our Sydney Criminal Lawyers are experts when it comes to charges of larceny by finding. We offer all of our clients a first free legal conference – there are absolutely no obligations attached. We will discuss the specifics of your case, so you can make an informed decision about your matter.

We have offices in Sydney CBD, Circular Quay and Parramatta. Call us today to book your first free legal conference on 1300SILENT (1300-745-368) Alternatively, send us an email at info@acfl.com.au and we will get back to you with available times and dates.