The California Law on Appropriation of Lost Property
Sec 485 of the California Penal Code stipulates that an individual who “finds lost property under circumstances which give him knowledge of or means of inquiry as to the true owner and who appropriates such property to his own use or to the use of another person not entitled thereto, without first making reasonable and just efforts to find the owner and to restore the property to him, is guilty of theft.”
The crux of this law involves possession of the lost property. There are two kinds of possession, one being actual possession and constructive possession. Actual possession means physical possession of the item. Constructive possession means the individual has the right over the property and this is present even without actual possession.
This offense can be prosecuted either as an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony. When the value of the property appropriated exceeds $950, then the offense becomes grand theft, which makes it prosecutable either as a felony or misdemeanor offense. The determination of how it should be prosecuted depends on the facts of the case and the accused’s criminal history.
If the conviction is for a felony offense, the imposable penalty is imprisonment of up to three years in state prison, payment of fines up to $10,000. On the other hand, when the conviction is for a misdemeanor offense, the prison time imposable is one year in county jail and payment of fines up to $1,000.
When the value of the property is equal or less than $950, this offense is considered as petty theft, and as such the imposable penalty is for a misdemeanor offense of up to six months in county prison and payment of fines up to $1,000. Depending on the criminal history as well as the facts of the case, the crime can even be prosecuted as an infraction, where the imposable penalty is the payment of a $250 fine.
Furthermore, a conviction for this offense is not a crime of moral turpitude.