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Understanding Pennsylvania’s mislaid property law

On Behalf of | Dec 28, 2020 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Most people in Pennsylvania never anticipate facing criminal charges given that they clearly understand what constitutes criminal activity (and, such understanding allows them to avoid engaging in it). At the same time, however, many may also hold assumptions about certain actions that may not be in concert with local legal statutes.

One such assumption may be the treatment of mislaid property. The reason for this misunderstanding likely stems from not exactly knowing the true definition of “mislaid.” Having such an understanding may give one the knowledge needed to avoid inadvertently coming under criminal scrutiny.

What is “mislaid” property?

According to the Cornell Law School, mislaid property is essentially lost property. Oftentimes, however, the law makes a distinction between mislaid and truly “lost” property. Lost property is those personal items that were clearly lost by their owners. An example might be an item that falls from a vehicle when transporting property, or something that falls out of a purse or a backpack. Mislaid property is something that the owner had likely taken out for use and then unintentionally left behind. This may be a laptop computer left and a library, or a wallet left on a tabletop at a restaurant.

One’s obligation toward mislaid property

The common thought regarding mislaid property follows the age-old “finders keepers” philosophy (that being that whatever one finds, one can keep). Yet Pennsylvania law contradicts this assumption. Indeed, according to the Pennsylvania State Legislature, the law views one keeping property clearly identified as lost, mislaid or delivered by mistake as theft if they can reasonably discover who the owner of the property is yet fails to take any actions to restore it to them. In this context, “restoring” the property to the owner may constitute turning it over to the police or the owner of the property where one found it.



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