Theft by finding

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Theft by finding occurs when someone chances upon an object which seems abandoned and takes possession of the object but fails to take steps to establish whether the object is genuinely abandoned and not merely lost or unattended.[1] In some jurisdictions the crime is called "larceny by finding" or "stealing by finding".[2][3]

By nation[edit]

United States[edit]

In the United States, if the owner of a property has renounced all property rights in the object, then the property is abandoned.[1] Since theft is the unlawful taking of another person's property, an essential element of the actus reus of theft is absent.[2]

The finder of lost property acquires a possessory right by taking physical control of the property, but does not necessarily have ownership of the property. The finder must take reasonable steps to locate the owner.[1] If the finder shows that reasonable steps to find the owner have been taken then the finder may establish that the required mens rea for theft, the intention to deprive the owner permanently, is absent.[2]

An issue may arise when a person takes possession of lost property with the intention of returning it to the owner after inquiry but later converts the property to the finder's use. This is illustrated by Thompson v. Nixon [1965] 3 W.L.R. 501: an off duty police constable found a bag of rabbit food lying by the roadside, took it home intending to hand it in as lost property but some time after decided to keep it for his own use. He was found guilty at first instance but his ultimate appeal to the Divisional Court was upheld. The appellate court held that, at the time of finding, there was no mens rea to support a conviction of larceny.[4] In some jurisdictions this has been addressed by statute; see, for example, s. 124, Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) allowing a jury to reach an alternative verdict of "fraudulent appropriation".


  1. ^ a b c Tooher, Joycey (2008). "finding of property". In Peter Cane and Joanne Conaghan (ed.). The New Oxford Companion to Law (Oxford Reference Online. ed.). Oxford University Press Inc. ISBN 9780199290543. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  2. ^ a b c A. E. S. Tay (Jul 1964). "Bridges v. Hawkesworth and the Early History of Finding". The American Journal of Legal History. 8 (3): 224–237. JSTOR 844171.
  3. ^ "Larceny by Finding (reprinted from the Law Times (London))". The American Law Register. 7 (6): 381–383. Apr 1859. JSTOR 3302356.
  4. ^ T. Hadden (Nov 1965). "Larceny by Finding. How Not to Reform the Law". The Cambridge Law Journal. 23 (2): 173–175. doi:10.1017/s0008197300082635. JSTOR 4505022.