Is “Finders Keepers” a crime?
“Finders keepers” is a concept often sought to be relied upon when an item, whether that be property or an amount of money, is found which you can keep without being guilty of the crime of stealing.
However, the application of the concept of finders keepers in NSW is more nuanced than its name suggests.
Stealing is an offence under the Crimes Act which provides for a maximum of five years imprisonment. However, if you find something on the street and keep it, are you guilty of stealing?
Like most things under the law, there is no “one size fits all” answer.
If at the time that you find the property you believe that the true owner could be identified and do not take any reasonable steps to locate the owner you could be found guilty of stealing.
For example, if you find a wallet on the street which contains cash and cards, the identity of the owner of the wallet would be readily found and in those circumstances it would be expected that you would either locate the person or provide the wallet to the police.
This can be contrasted to the position where you find a $20 note on the street. There is no one else around. In that situation it could be reasonably believed that the owner of the note could not be identified and you would be entitled to keep the cash.
Whilst a $20 note may not be unique enough to engender a belief that the true owner cannot be identified, this may not hold true for larger sums of money. There have been cases where persons have been found guilty of stealing when they have retained large sums of cash which does not belong to them. Generally, it would be expected that this money would be handed in to the police. The same would apply to other valuable items such as jewellery. Whilst, it may be argued, on the face of it there is no way to identify the owner, it would be reasonable to assume that the true owner of the cash or valuable item would be making attempts to locate them.
Finders keepers does apply to property that has been abandoned. Any property that is discarded or disowned such as furniture or other goods left on the street for rubbish collection, may be collected and retained. Likewise, you can assume that an item has been abandoned if it is no longer fit for its intended purpose.
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