You’re likely familiar with the saying, “finders keepers”, which asserts that whoever finds something is entitled to keep it. But did you know that when a person chances upon personal property that they do not own, and they decide to take that property, this may actually be considered stealing in Australia? Here’s everything you need to know about stealing by finding in Queensland.
How is Stealing Defined Under Australian Law?
Section 391(1) of the Criminal Code Act 1899, defines stealing:
“A person who fraudulently takes anything capable of being stolen, or fraudulently converts to the person’s own use or to the use of any other person capable of being stolen, is said to steal that thing”.
A lost item is ‘capable of being stolen’ if it is moveable, capable of being made moveable, even if it is made moveable in order to steal it. Under Section 1 of the Criminal Code Act 1899, property that is capable of being stolen includes:
- every thing animate or inanimate that is capable of being the subject of ownership; and
- money; and
- electrical or other energy, gas and water; and
- a plant; and
- an animal that is
- a tame animal, whether or not naturally tame; or
- an untamed animal of a type that, if kept, is usually kept confined; or
- an untamed animal in a person’s possession or being pursued for return to possession after escape; and
- a thing produced by an animal mentioned in paragraph (e) ; and
- any other property real or personal, legal or equitable, including things in action and other intangible property.
What About Stealing Property That is Lost?
In a situation where a person finds lost property, it is not always illegal to keep that property. Section 391(5) of the Criminal Code Act 1899 outlines the circumstances where the finder has rights over the property. It is not considered stealing by finding if the person who found the property did not know who the owner of the lost item was, believed the owner could not be found, and made reasonable attempts to discover the true owner. If a person finds a wallet on the street, reasonable measure or attempt might be to hand a wallet into the nearest shop or police station. If a person finds $20 on the street, there might not be a need to find the owner. However, if that person notices someone dropping the money and they decide to keep that money for themselves, this could be considered stealing by finding. If a person makes a reasonable attempt to discover the true owner, that person might be able to keep the item.
The Penalties for Stealing by Finding
If a person is found guilty of stealing by finding, Section 398 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 outlines that the penalty for this crime is five years imprisonment. However, this sentence can be increased to ten years if:
- the thing is stolen from the person of another;
- the thing is stolen in a dwelling, and its value exceeds $1000, or the offender at or immediately before or after the time of stealing uses or threatens to use violence to any person in the dwelling;
- the thing is stolen from any kind of vehicle or place of deposit used for the conveyance or custody of goods in transit from 1 place to another;
- the thing is stolen from a vehicle which is in distress or wrecked or stranded;
- if the thing is stolen from a public office in which it is deposited or kept;
- if the offender, in order to commit the offence, opens any locked room, box, or other receptacle, by means of a key or other instrument.
Have You Been Charged With Stealing By Finding?
If you have been charged with a stealing by finding offence and you believe that you made reasonable attempts to locate the true owner, we highly recommend you seek legal advice from an experienced criminal lawyer. Our team specialises in all areas of criminal law, as well as guilty or not guilty pleas, bail applications and appeals. Please get in touch with our team to see how we can help you.