It’s your lucky day. You’re walking down the street and spot a $20 note on the ground. You pick it up, look around, but there’s no one else in sight. You decide to pocket the money and treat yourself to something nice.
Unfortunately, if you fail to take adequate steps to find the true owner, you may be charged with larceny by finding. In New South Wales, the offence of Larceny by finding can carry up to 5 years gaol. This is the same penalty as Larceny.
A woman in the UK learnt this the hard way after pocketing a £20 ($35AUD) note she found on the floor of a shop. Little did she know that the note had been dropped by a wheelchair-bound customer, who discovered his money was missing and informed staff.
Staff checked the CCTV footage and found images of Nicole Bailey picking up the note and pocketing it. They called the police and Bailey was subsequently charged with theft.
In the end, Bailey was given a six-month good behaviour bond, despite having no previous criminal convictions. She also had to pay AUD$300 in legal fees.
A Melbourne couple were charged in 2010 after buying a second-hand suitcase from a Salvation Army charity shop and discovering $100,000 of cash inside. The couple made no attempts to locate the rightful owner and instead kept the cash for themselves, depositing it into various bank accounts to evade suspicion.
If you find and keep cash or valuable property lying around, you could be liable to be convicted of larceny by finding. You could be convicted of the offence if you believe that the owner could be found if you take reasonable steps, but you intend not to return it to the owner. If you find cash or valuable property lying around, you need to take reasonable measures to locate the true owner before keeping it for yourself.
What are considered to be “reasonable measures” will depend on the specifics of each case. In some circumstances, it will be handing the cash in to a local police station, or trying to contact the owner in the case of a lost wallet.