"Finders keepers" is a popular adage, but is it a valid statement of the law? A recent Pennsylvania case involving four remodeling employees who faced a variety of criminal charges after finding $60,000 while fixing up an old house casts some doubt on this proposition.
In the summer of 2012, four men working as "under-the-table" laborers for a remodeling contractor found several boxes of cash in a dormer on the old the house where they were working. The source of the cash, approximately $60,000 was unknown to any of the men. The newest of the bills dated from the 1980s. Instead of reporting the find to their employer, the four men decided to split up the cash and remain silent about their supposed good fortune. When the contractor, who had purchased the house from the estate of its deceased owner, learned of the incident, he reported the four men to the police. The men were arrested and charged with theft and other property crimes. After posting bail, the four men were released.
The lawyers for the four men filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the criminal charges because the owner of the cash and the circumstances that led to its being placed in the house were unknown. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed all criminal charges against the four men because "there is no evidence of the identity of the rightful owner of the funds from whom the defendants allegedly stole." The ultimate disposition of the funds remains unclear and will probably await another court ruling.
The defense lawyers served their clients well by making a creative argument that highlighted the defendants' lack of criminal intent. The case demonstrates the importance of retaining a competent criminal defense attorney. It also proves another adage: If something looks like it's too good to be true, it probably is.
Source: Observer-Reporter.com, "Judge dismisses criminal charges filed against four who found $60K," Barbara Miller, Dec. 30, 2014