Georgia Public Defender, Alexia Dawn Davis, 31, has found herself facing a relatively rare charge for failing to take steps to return a diamond ring that she found in a parking lot. Davis is charged with theft of lost or mislaid property after she kept the ring for two weeks before taking it to the police in Augusta.
The ring was found outside of a Cracker Barrel in the parking lot on February 7th. The ring belonged to Jane G. Prater, 62, who reported it missing on February 12th. The ring is worth about $10,500.
When Davis found the ring, her companion went back into the restaurant and asked what she should do if she found a ring. The server suggested the manager but the woman said that she would keep the ring and call the police. No call was made.
When the ring was reported missing, the sheriff recovered security surveillance footage and released it to the public on February 19th to try to identify the finder. That same day as the release of the security footage, Davis went to the police with the ring. They then charged her with theft of lost or mislaid property — a felony for any item worth more than $1,500.
Here is the applicable standard:
16-8-6. Theft of lost or mislaid property
A person commits the offense of theft of lost or mislaid property when he comes into control of property that he knows or learns to have been lost or mislaid and appropriates the property to his own use without first taking reasonable measures to restore the property to the owner. – See more at: http://statutes.laws.com/georgia/title-16/chapter-8/article-1/16-8-6#sthash.nli8bOEe.dpuf
The question is one of intent and the meaning of “taking reasonable measures.” Here David does not appear to have taken measures for two weeks, but the law does not state a time period in which to act.
Davis now has found four lawyers to represent her. What is interesting is that the defense admits that it was the release of the video that prompted Davis to go to the police but insists that it was only at that point that she knew of the owner’s identity:
“No matter what shadow the Sheriff and the District Attorney’s office tries to cast upon Ms. Davis’ impeccable reputation and her motives, the legal fact is that she did not appropriate the ring for her own use, which is the crime this statute is intending to cover. When she learned who the owner was through the postings online from the Sheriff’s office, she promptly turned it in. She knew it was valuable but she had neither sold it nor wore the ring as if it was hers.”
Below is the full statement.
The prosecutors are likely to argue that Davis returned the ring to the police not the woman once she knew the name of the woman — something she could have done at any time. Indeed, her companion reportedly said the police would be notified. Local prosecutors will now prosecute a local public defender in the case. The jury will have to determine intent. It is interesting that she is not arguing the most obvious defense that she is a busy litigator and never got around to taking the ring into police. The claim that she was waiting to “learn” the identity of the owner could break down in court if she took no steps to learn the identity but waited for it to occur spontaneously. It would be useful if she could show that she called the restaurant in the interim, but that key fact is not mentioned by her lawyers.
What do you think? Was too weeks too long to wait in your view?
Here is the statement from the defense team:
“We are issuing this statement in response to calls and information that we have received regarding the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office statement about the law on Theft of Lost or Mislaid Property and the case involving our client Ms. Alexia Davis. It is my understanding that the Sheriff’s office has indicated that the law requires a person to make reasonable efforts to find the owner of the property and they arrested Ms. Davis because they feel that she did not make reasonable efforts to find the owner, and only turned it in when they posted the information about the lost ring online.
The law states that “a person commits the offense of theft of lost or mislaid property when he comes into control of property that he knows or learns to have been lost or mislaid and appropriates the property to his own use without first taking reasonable measures to restore the property to the owner.” O.C.G.A. 16-8-6. Every word in a statute has meaning. The important part of the law that is not being discussed is that one must “appropriate the property to his own use” to commit the crime. Possession of the property is a separate element from the appropriation part, which means that mere possession of the property is not sufficient to constitute a crime when the person restores the property to the owner in its original state. Who wants an average citizen, or for example a young person, to think that if he/she finds something and leaves it in his/her locker or car for a week, and then someone posts an ad looking for the item, the person dare not turn it in to the owner because they then have to fear being arrested. That is why there is an appropriation to one’s own use requirement. The taking reasonable measures to restore it to the owner is a defense to the appropriation element, and is not necessary when the owner actually gets their property back as soon as the person becomes aware of his/her identity. No crime has occurred. The law should encourage people to come forward and do the right thing and to not feel afraid. The statute does not define what is reasonable. The statute does not require a person to turn anything into the Sheriff’s office, and it does not set a time limit.
The warrant in this case leaves out the critical fact that the ring was restored to the owner and had not been altered, changed, sold or worn. Ms. Davis was offered money for the ring but did not sell it. She wanted to know if it was real only. If she had sold the ring, like some people may have done when given the opportunity, then this would be a crime because she would have appropriated it for her own use. She talked to a Richmond County jailer about finding lost property and was told she should check the newspaper, lost and found ads, and not advertise because she would get all kinds of people calling her. What the jailer said would happen actually occurred. When Columbia County posted that the ring was lost at the Cracker Barrel, she then knew who the owner was and returned it.
Most importantly, when considering the reasonableness of a person’s effort to restore lost property to an owner, how much more reasonable can the effort be than that the person promptly turns the property in when he/she learns the identity of the owner. This law should be meant to deter crime and promote honesty, not fear of turning something in as we read the law. This is of course our interpretation of the law, and not that of the officer who took out the warrant and the associate magistrate, who is not a lawyer, who actually issued the warrant. Ms. Davis’ impeccable reputation and career are at stake in this case, and her legal team hopes that this statement helps clarify what we believe to be the law regarding finding mislaid or lost property. We are continuing to prepare this case for trial.”