In People v. Dadon, 167 Misc.2d 628, 640 N.Y.S.2d 425 (Crim. Ct. N.Y. Cty 1996) the court dealt with two individuals who were prosecuted for the crime of petit larceny and criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree. The facts provided in the opinion indicate that the victim (apparently legitimately) lost his wallet. He then received a call from someone who had found the wallet and asked how much it was worth to victim - suggesting a sum of $1,000 for the return of the wallet and its contents. The victim agreed to place $1,000 in an envelope addressed to “Adam” and leave it with the hotdog vendor near the St. Regis Hotel at 1:15 p.m. that afternoon. Obviously, the victim notified the police who observed defendant Correa in conversation with defendant Dadon near the St. Regis Hotel at about 1:25 p.m. that afternoon and then saw defendant Correa approach a nearby hotdog vendor. When the police approached Correa they found that he had two wallets, including the one that belonged to the victim.
Following their arraignment, Correa and Dadon sought to dismiss the accusatory instrument, arguing that they had not committed the crimes of Petit Larceny and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property. In so doing, the defendants argued that the act of soliciting a reward for the return of lost property which they briefly possessed is not criminal. They also argued that they took reasonable measures to return the property, did not intend to deprive the owner permanently of that property, and that seeking a reward for its return was lawful. But was it?
Under NY law, a person commits petit larceny if he wrongly withholds another person's property. The statutory definition includes when a person:
exercises control over property of another which he knows to have been lost or mislaid, or to have been delivered under a mistake as to the identity of the recipient or the nature or amount of the property, without taking reasonable measures to return such property to the owner.
In framing the issue before it, the court noted that:
when one acquires lost property which he knows to have been lost or mislaid and does not take reasonable measures to return it to its owner, he commits larceny and criminal possession of stolen property if his intent is to dispose of the property for the benefit of himself or another person. See,People v. Colon, 28 N.Y.2d 1, 318 N.Y.S.2d 929, 267 N.E.2d 577 (1971). The issue presented here is, therefore, whether one who seeks to return lost property in return for a reward which he has solicited has made what the statute characterizes “reasonable measures” to return it and whether he has intended, by seeking a reward, to dispose of the property for his own benefit.
Well, with that kind of introduction, you know how the court dealt with the criminal matter. In denying the motion to dismiss, the court explained that:
The current larceny and criminal possession of stolen property statutes do not specifically refer to the seeking of a reward for the return of lost property as being acts which render the conduct criminal. They do, however, specifically provide that a person commits a criminal act by withholding lost property with the intent to appropriate the property to himself or another, that is, with an intent to obtain a benefit from the withholding of the property. Clearly, when no reward has been offered by the owner, the seeking of a reward in exchange for the returning of lost property constitutes a withholding of that property with an intent to obtain a benefit. Although in such circumstances the withholding may be temporary, the intent, as required by the statute, is to permanently dispose of the property to one's own benefit in that the reward sought would be a permanent benefit to its receiver. Furthermore, conditioning the return of the property on a reward where none has been offered does not constitute “reasonable measures” to return the property to its owner. Accordingly, larceny and criminal possession of stolen property are committed when one withholds lost property seeking a reward for its return.
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