What Is the Difference Between Lost and Stolen Property?

When an Apple employee loses a top-secret iPhone, is the guy who finds it guilty of "theft"?

Adam Freedman
4-minute read

California Law Puts Special Obligations on Finders

In this case, Hogan may have violated a provision of California’s Civil Code, which states that if a person takes possession of lost property, he or she must either return it to the owner or turn it in to the police. It appears that Hogan took a third option: sell to the highest bidder. But Hogan’s actions do not necessarily amount to “theft” under California criminal law. That depends on whether he made “reasonable and just efforts” to find the property owner. According to reports, Hogan did try to notify Apple that he had found the phone, but Apple allegedly did not follow up.

Did Gizmodo Commit a Crime by Buying the iPhone?

If Hogan did commit a crime, then arguably Gizmodo also committed a crime. That’s because it is a separate offense for one person to buy purloined property from another--this is the crime commonly known as “receipt of stolen goods.” But in order to be guilty of this crime, Gizmodo must have known that the phone had been stolen. Gizmodo may argue that it had no idea how Hogan obtained the device--perhaps no questions were asked.   Also, given that the line between finding and stealing can depend on the subjective question of whether Hogan made “reasonable and just efforts,” Gizmodo may be able to claim that there was no way for it to be sure that the phone was, technically, stolen.  

But that’s not the end of the story. Gizmodo didn’t just buy the new-fangled iPhone, it published details about it over the Internet. And that raises a bunch of other legal claims and counterclaims that I’ll discuss in my next article, which I hope you’ll listen to or read on your own mobile device--and not anyone else’s. 

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