Theft by finding in Florida: Is it really theft?

On Behalf of | Jan 17, 2024 | Criminal Defense

There’s a phrase that goes, “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” However, in real-life situations, discovering unattended property can lead to a moral and legal dilemma. If you find a valuable or money left on the ground, should you try to return it to its rightful owner? What happens if you choose to keep it?

In Florida, the laws surrounding “theft by finding” may not be common knowledge. This blog aims to clarify whether or not keeping found property can constitute theft under Florida law.

What is theft by finding?

Theft by finding occurs when an individual discovers property and decides to keep it, without taking any steps to locate the original owner.

Per state law, whenever a person finds any lost or abandoned property, they’re obligated to report the description and location of the property to law enforcement. The officer taking the report will then ask whether the finder wants to make a claim for the item if they can’t locate the rightful owner.

If the finder wishes to make such a claim, they will have to deposit with the law enforcement agency a reasonable amount of cash to cover the agency’s transportation, storage and publication notice costs. This sum will be reimbursed to the finder by the rightful owner should they reclaim the property.

Penalties for theft by finding

It’s unlawful for anyone to appropriate any lost or stolen property or refuse to deliver the property to law enforcement. A violation of this law is a theft offense, punishable by the same penalties as any theft offense.

If the appropriated item costs less than $100, the theft offense is a second-degree misdemeanor. It’s punishable by up to 60 days in jail and $500 in fines. If the item costs $100 or more but less than $750, the theft offense is a first-degree misdemeanor, which leads to up to a year in jail and $1,000 in fines.

Theft by finding becomes a felony if the item’s value costs at least $750. For example, appropriating an item that costs between $750 and $20,000 is a third-degree felony that carries a five-year prison sentence and $10,000 in fines.

In Florida, “theft by finding” is not a term formally used in the statutes, but the principles are embedded within the theft laws. If you find lost property, be proactive in trying to locate the owner or turn it over to the police. Consult with a legal professional when in doubt to avoid potential theft charges. Remember, keeping found property without due diligence could have serious legal consequences.