That’s the playground rhyme that everyone learns when they are young. Many a misplaced quarter or toy has been claimed under that rule, which by according to some sources dates back to Roman property law. Although, I doubt that this little couplet adequately summarizes the entire view of ancient attorneys on the subject.
But still, it serves for most folks as a standard we apply when we encounter a lost dime, dollar, or other object with no discernible owner and of modest value. It’s not a hard and fast standard, of course.
Like most “rules” it requires some judgment, a conscience, or a moral compass, to be applied well.
I think most people would tend to pocket a $10 bill found it on the street, if no one appeared to be around to ask about it. Unless of course, the $10 was in a wallet, in which case I would expect most responsible people to make an attempt to locate the owner.
It depends on the circumstances, but one should always try to do the right thing.
But what if it was something of much greater value? What if it was $1,000 in cash? What if it was a diamond ring?
In that case, I would argue that playground rules no longer apply.
Recently, a charge of theft of lost or mislaid property was dismissed against a local attorney. Alexia Davis was essentially accused of intending to keep something valuable that she knew belonged to someone else, a $10,000 ring lost by a Thomson woman outside of Cracker Barrel.
Police say Davis had the ring for 12 days, but did nothing during that time to find the owner or contact police about finding the ring. She did, however, have it appraised by a local jewelry buyer.
Although the prosecutor in the case ultimately decided what Davis had done did not amount to a crime, Davis admitted she used bad judgment in keeping the ring, and said as much in a letter of apology to the owner.
One would think that Davis, who works as a public defender, and who has defended others on similar charges, ought to be familiar enough with the law well enough to know what should be done in such as case.
If she wasn’t sure, she probably could have asked one of her many colleagues at the courthouse, or perhaps consulted a law book.
Heck, Wikipedia could even work in a pinch. Here’s what it has to say on lost property in the second paragraph: “Most jurisdictions have now enacted statutes requiring that the finder of lost property turn it in to the proper authorities.”
None of those options seemed to occur to Davis until police produced surveillance video that could have linked her to the missing property. Then she came forward.
Davis, who must certainly have been embarrassed by the unfortunate situation, was philosophical in her apology letter.
“The good thing from all of this is that I have learned a valuable lesson about finding other people’s belongings, and so have other people,” Davis wrote.
As a wise colleague of mine pointed out, it is probably a lesson she should have learned in kindergarten.