You leave the restaurant and walk across the parking lot to your car. You spot a $20 bill on the ground. You count yourself lucky, pick it up and put it in your pocket. Then you get in your car and drive home.
Most of us have done something like this without ever thinking about it being a type of theft. Is it legal to keep the money that you find on the ground or in some other location?
The amount makes a difference
Generally speaking, you’re supposed to return financial assets that you discover if you’re able to do so. If you can tell who the owner is, you do have an obligation to give it back to them. However, in a situation like the one described above, you have no idea who actually owned that $20 bill. It’s just an abandoned piece of cash.
In this case, the amount of money that you discover can make a big difference in how this is viewed under the law. If it’s $20 and it’s clearly been abandoned, then odds are that you can pick it up without having to worry about facing arrest or any sort of criminal accusations.
If you found $2,000 in a duffel bag, that’s a very different scenario. It is much more valuable, it has clearly not been abandoned and it is likely that the person who owns it is either looking for it or aware of it. Taking the $2,000 could get you into legal trouble, even though you can use the same argument that you would use with the $20 – that you simply found it.
If you do find yourself facing any unexpected theft charges, just make sure you know what criminal defense options you have.