cedar rapids / iowa city criminal defense

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Is "Finder's Keepers" a "thing?" 

by David Cmelik

No. Finders’ keepers is not ‘a thing.’ Finders’ keepers and ‘possession is nine tenths of the law’ are both similarly pervasive myths that get people into trouble thinking that they are following socially acceptable morays dismissive of others who have the misfortune or poor habit of mislaying their own property. In reality, following these age old, albeit misleading, tenets can get somebody arrested. Moreover, relying on them to support willful blindness to the stolen character of an item of value will likely result in arrest and prosecution.

Those who can’t keep track of their belongings frequently call on police to find them, reporting them stolen. If such property is in the possession of others, in Iowa, the possessor can be charged with theft. Even if the possessor claims ignorance, they may have to defend themselves in court-- challenging their knowledge of the stolen character of the item and their desire to conceal it.

Under Iowa law, it is illegal for a person to “conceal[] found property, or appropriate[] such property to the person's own use, when the owner of such property is known to the person.” Iowa Code 714.1(2).

What if the original owner is “unknown to the person” or a person doesn’t really know something is stolen but just suspects it? What if the item has passed through a number of hands and it can’t possibly be said that the current possessor has knowledge of an item’s provenance?  That ignorance may not be good enough to immunize a finder from prosecution. That’s because theft is also defined as exercising control over property where the possessor “know[s] such property to have been stolen, or [has] reasonable cause to believe that such property has been stolen.” Moreover, “the fact that the person is found in possession of property which has been stolen from two or more persons on separate occasions” may be enough to support the inference that the current possessor has knowledge the item was stolen. Iowa Code 714.1(4).

An untrained individual who tries to parse the statute in mind might wind up in dangerous territory—because a jury’s idea of what is “reasonable” might not be the same as a possessor who happens on a $1,000 ring from a street vendor for for ten bucks or simply finds a wallet on the ground and keeps it without telling anyone. That’s because the police could come calling and say it was reasonable to infer knowledge of the character of the thing possessed.

Still, it is a fact question for the jury and a lawyer may be able to help navigate the process. If the decision is made and police are knocking at the door, it’s time to become an informed legal consumer. Contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC for a free ½ hour initial consultation today at 319-389-1889 or http://www.daclawfirm.com. But, please remember, a blog is not legal advice specific to any given situation nor does sending unsolicited information to a lawyer over the Internet create an attorney-client relationship. 

1450 Boyson Road Suite C-2A Hiawatha, Iowa 52233     319-389-1889

The mere possession of property deemed to be stolen could result in an arrest. If you or a loved one has been arrested for theft in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, Vinton, Anamosa, Linn, Johnson, Black Hawk, Benton, Jones, or other Iowa counties, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC for a free 1/2 hour initial consultation today.