The age-old saying regarding lost property typically begins with some variation of the words “finders, keepers.” You may indeed believe that if you find property or money most would classify as lost or mislaid that you are within your rights to claim it. Yet is that truly the case?
Some might tell you that such a decision is a moral one, in that if you feel alright with claiming the property, you can. The law, however, does clearly define what you are to do with lost or mislaid property. Understanding what that obligation is may help you avoid (or defend yourself from) accusations of theft.
Defining lost property
The first point to establish is that there is ab actual difference between lost and mislaid property. Lost property is that which its owner has clearly lost, while mislaid property is that which was likely simply forgotten. For example, if you find an electronic device left on a table in a restaurant, you may infer that the owner took it out during their meal and then walked away without it. The law would likely classify that property as mislaid, in which your best course of action may be to simply had it over the restaurant owner (with the assumption being that the owner will eventually realize their error and return for it).
If, however, you find the same device on a sidewalk, then it is reasonable to assume that it accidentally feel from the owner’s pocket or purse (in which case they might not know where it is), making it lost property.
Dealing with lost property
Per Section 134.1 of Massachusetts’ General Laws, you are to turn in any lost property whose value is $3 or greater to the nearest police station. If not claimed within one year, the property then lawfully becomes yours.