Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wednesday's Weird But True Legal Cases - Vol XXVII

Tonight's Weird (but true) Legal Case involves a sting set up by the New York City Police Department and a Judge who did the right thing, even when the perpetrator did not.

Although it is not well known, the rule in New York is not simply "finders keepers." Codified at §252 of the Personal Property Law is a law entitled "Found property and found instruments to be deposited with police." Under this statute, a person who finds property worth $20 or more or comes into possession of property valued at $20 or more which he knows is lost, must within ten days of finding the property either bring it to a police station or return it to its proper owner. A person who refuses to do so or willfully neglects this law is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars and a jail term of up to six months (or both).

With that introduction in mind, we turn to tonight's weird (but true) legal case - People v. Arroyo, 12 Misc.3d 1003, 815 N.Y.S.2d 922 (Crim. Ct. Kings Cty. 2006). In Arroyo, the NYPD had been running an operation called "Lucky Bag" in which police officers intentionally left an unattended bag containing an Xbox, cell phone and cash on a subway platform.

Well, once Mr. Arroyo saw the bag he picked it up and walked away with it, passing two uniformed police officers and a passerby who saw him pick the bag up and told him to turn it in to the Transit Authority (he responded "I'll take my chances"). Arroyo was subsequently arrested and charged with petit larceny and possession of stolen property. When his case came on in court, his legal aid attorney asked the Court to dismiss the case in the interests of justice.

Since I gave away the punchline earlier, yes, the court dismissed the case, partially because the charges had no useful purpose and also because the judge felt that they may have conflicted with Personal Property Law §252 (since Arroyo never got his ten days to turn the bag in).

The Judge did have a message for the police as well, stating at the end of his decision:

The police should concentrate their noble efforts on behalf of the city on countering real crimes committed every day. They do not need to manipulate a situation where temptation may overcome even people who would normally never think of committing a crime.
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