Georgia Public Defender Charged With Keeping Found Diamond Ring

12017533Georgia 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.”

Source: Chroncile

73 thoughts on “Georgia Public Defender Charged With Keeping Found Diamond Ring”

  1. Plausible scenario:
    “Hey, a ring. I’ll have to see if I can find out whose it is, but I’ll do it later because I’m pretty busy.”
    A few days later:
    “Oh yeah, I have to do something about that ring. Well, maybe tomorrow because I’ve got all that stuff to do today.”
    Two weeks later:
    “This looks like an interesting story on the news… Wait, that’s me! Oh, crap, it looks like I’d better return that ring today!”
    No need to attribute any bad motives at all. Just normal human procrastination. Seems to me in the absence of evidence for more sinister motives, this should be the default.

  2. Michael Val,

    You are right. The appropriation element is the tricky one. I think that simply keeping something can be adequate for appropriation of use, otherwise are we saying that you can keep someone’s property indefinitely as long as you don’t do something with it?

  3. Balanced, I don’t think you ever addressed the requirement to “appropriate the property to [her] own use.” I agree with you that the facts suggest that she has no intent to ever attempt to find the ring’s owner and return it to her. But, as I read the law, she must do something other than just finding and keeping the ring to be guilty of the crime cited. It seems an awfully strained interpretation of the English language to say that possession = use.

  4. Balanced,

    You seem so ignorant about legal standards and elements of crimes . . . and you are apparently psychic.

    “She knew the right thing to do was to try and find the owner, but she also wanted the property.”

    Really. And tell us exactly how you know what she wanted? Because she didn’t hop to it and do what you think is appropriate? There is nothing in the statute about timeliness. The bottom line is no mens rea, no crime. You have nothing but proof of tardiness.

    What can I say? Willful ignorance of the law and rushing to judgement based on a moral supposition instead of proving a requisite element of the crime in a rush to judgement makes me want to tell you haven’t proven jackshit. Neither has the prosecutor nor they are likely to in this instance as well. At least four other lawyers seem to agree her case is a win for the defendant as they chose to represent her.

    As for “hostile”? The word means “showing or feeling opposition or dislike; unfriendly”. I’ll stipulate willful ignorance and moralistic rushes to judgement contrary to legal standards makes me both oppositional and unfriendly. I’m not sure where you went to law school, but it’s my training to defend people from others trying to crucify them on insufficient evidence. Justice is the goal, not punishment to fit your moralizing based on psychic supposition. It’s my nature to be unfriendly to those who oppose justice.

    You’re free to say what you like. I’m free to criticize it how I see fit. If you don’t like it? Too bad. If any of that presents a problem for you, I suggest you re-read the 1st Amendment.

  5. AY,

    I have reread the facts above and think you may have it wrong; however if there are newer facts, please let me know. Found on 7th, reported missing by owner on 12th (not turned over), turned in by Davis on 19th.

    It seems it remains true that there was no apparent reasonable measures made by Davis from the day she chose to take possession of the ring on the 7th until 12 days later when on the 19th the police released evidence.

  6. Balanced,

    There you inventing your own facts…. Found on the 7th, Thursday…. Turned over on the 12th a Tuesday…. Where’d those 5 days go…. Maybe your a judge or prosecutor…. Facts don’t seem to be an issue for you….

  7. Mespo,

    You’re right. When I threw out the comments “She’s a thief”, I was making a quick intuitive judgment, with a bit of my own sense of morality behind it. But that is independent from the legal analysis of the facts and statute, which I still think is sound.

    1. “When I threw out the comments “She’s a thief”, I was making a quick intuitive judgment, with a bit of my own sense of morality behind it.”

      Balanced,

      There you have it. I can’t speak for anyone else but when you did that it annoyed me. My comment: “I would suppose the “balanced” viewpoint would be prison time as well.” was ironic criticism which you responded to with the equally inane:

      “I don’t think prison would be appropriate for this defendant. Disbarment.”

      Disbarment is as bad a moral judgment as “she’s a thief”. Just based on the facts of this situation, the police/prosecutorial action is highly suspicious, given that she is a public defender. That you are willing to both label her a criminal and finish her career based on the facts of this case says more negatively about your draconian morality, than about hers.

      Eric S’s comment:

      “Plausible scenario:
      “Hey, a ring. I’ll have to see if I can find out whose it is, but I’ll do it later because I’m pretty busy.”
      A few days later:
      “Oh yeah, I have to do something about that ring. Well, maybe tomorrow because I’ve got all that stuff to do today.”
      Two weeks later:
      “This looks like an interesting story on the news… Wait, that’s me! Oh, crap, it looks like I’d better return that ring today!”
      No need to attribute any bad motives at all. Just normal human procrastination. Seems to me in the absence of evidence for more sinister motives, this should be the default.”

      Bears repeating because this is a totally reasonable scenario, not only based on the facts, but also on human nature. Also the concept of “mens rea” asserted by Gene, Rafflaw, AY and Mespo should control. If she had tried to sell the ring then one could assume a guilty mind. That she had it appraised does not indicate “mens rea”, but merely an attempt to discover whether she should make more than reasonable efforts in returning the ring. The ring could have looked like a diamond but been completely worthless glass. There are plenty of other scenarios that could also be asserted before thinking she’s guilty.

  8. Gene,

    You seem so hostile.

    My comments about mens rea and abandonment are simply what I believe to have been in her head. And even though those issues/elements are not necessary for this case, I think a jury would quickly grasp onto the scenario given the facts. Juries like a story that makes sense.

    You and I clearly disagree on the adequacy of the evidence, which is the nature of the legal practice, but to say the facts that I, and the prosecutor, have highlighted amount to “jackshit” seems kind of rude.

    I think she found what appeared to her to be an expensive and/or attractive piece of jewelry. She knew the right thing to do was to try and find the owner, but she also wanted the property. There was a period of deliberation that included her friend going into the restaurant to test the waters, where she was even given the obvious recommendation to speak with the manager, but Ms. Davis chooses not to (as far as she knows the owner of the ring could have already approached the manager with notice of the loss). Moreover, Ms. Davis elects not to leave her contact details, instead saying she would contact the police, which is a far less efficient and reasonable decision, but acceptable. However, Ms. Davis does not contact the police until two weeks later when there is video evidence of the loss (and one could reasonably presume the recovery).

    I think the evidence is adequate to prosecute her under the statute. Her state of mind at the time she picked up the ring is, as far as I can tell, irrelevant, although I believe I am correct that she was trying to manipulate the situation so the ring would become hers (the guilty mind).

    The voluntary surrender of misappropriated property does not abrogate the misappropriation. And I don’t see it as being evidence of reasonable measures, although it is certainly a reasonable act.

  9. Justine Betti, Linden High School Student, Tapes Teacher Allegedly Stealing From Students’ Lockers

    Posted: 02/27/2013 12:34 pm EST | Updated: 02/27/2013 2:23 pm EST

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/27/justin-betti-teacher-locker-thief_n_2773353.html

    “I was very upset at the story of the gym teacher who allegedly stole from students backpacks from their lockers,” the reviewer wrote. “Now the real problem, the principal … instructing the students to erase the tapes.”

  10. no finders keepers? I’m crushed. I can easily see her not wanting to hand the ring over to either the restaurant or the police, but she should have left her name and contact information with the restaurant.

    Cops and prosecutors don’t like to have defendants get off. A Black public defender? No room for benefit of the doubt here. The ring was turned in when the owner was identified. I don’t see reason for the charge.

  11. Lost on the 7th and reported missing on February 12th? I wonder why it took 5 days to report the loss. At any rate, the woman’s lucky to have recovered her ring.

    “This sounds like a “no harm, no foul” situation to me, and it makes me wonder, given that she’s a PD, whether someone in the prosecutor’s office is settling a score.” -Gene H

    She could have been waiting for a news ad to find out who the owner was, who knows….fact remains she DID turn it back in… -John454

    Yep and yep. What a waste of time.

  12. Balanced:

    Morality, my dear fellow lawyer, is always defined by the culture (private or public) in which it exists. That’s precisely my point. it’s you and your morality on display. Not legal analysis.

  13. OT:

    Another shining example of justice:

    CIA/Torture Whistleblower John Kiriakou Reports to Prison Today
    on February 28, 2013

    (Washington, DC) – Today, Feb. 28, CIA/torture whistleblower John Kiriakou will report to the Federal Correctional Institute in Loretto, Pennsylvania, to begin a 30-month prison term. Kiriakou’s attorney, GAP National Security & Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack, and NSA whistleblower Tom Drake (who was also charged under the Espionage Act) will accompany Kiriakou to the facility, where he is expected to report by 12:00 p.m.

    Initially, the Obama administration charged Kiriakou with violating the Espionage Act. The Obama Justice Department has indicted six whistleblowers under the Act – more than all past administrations combined. Late last year, Kiriakou pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. In exchange, prosecutors dropped all other charges.

    Kiriakou is the sole CIA officer to face jail time for any action involving the federal government’s torture program. Ironically, Kiriakou, the whistleblower on the program, will go to prison, while the agents who implemented it will not. (More on Kiriakou below.)

    http://www.whistleblower.org/press/press-release-archive/2013/2553-ciatorture-whistleblower-john-kiriakou-reports-to-prison-today

  14. balanced:

    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.

    *****************

    A statute codifying the category of “theft” doesn’t change the requirement of mens rea. Pray tell also, how did our defendant come to actually “know or learn” that the ring had been lost or mislaid before Feb 19th? Surely no one mislays a ring in a parking lot. Losing it is one possible scenario. How will the prosecution prove it wasn’t abandoned in the parking lot as in my examples?

    You made the statement a few times, “She’s a thief and we all know it.” Do we? Let’s look at your proposed tautology.When did she become a thief? The day of the find? When she took it home? When she kept it for two weeks? When she saw the video or learned about the video? If before Feb 19th and after she made the find what changed in the interim besides time that suggests to you had a guilty mind?

    Ignoring the nature of the charge, who placed it, and who is was placed against is legal tone deafness in the extreme and a classic example of legalistic myopia caused by virulent moralizing.

    Come on now did you go to Regent University Law School? Be honest.

  15. Mespo,

    Unfortunately the law is far from perfect, and of course the morality is defined by the lawmakers (essentially) which means it can and does change.

  16. balanced:

    “The law is very very very much about morality and public policy decisions. ”

    ******************

    Great news! I’ll alert all the inmates on death row. They’ll be fascinated and elated to know about their impending commutations of sentence.

  17. Mespo,

    The law is very very very much about morality and public policy decisions. (I don’t know about the Christian part.) But, my analysis of the facts has nothing to do with my sense of morality, I am simply applying the law that in this case says if you choose to pick up something that doesn’t belong to you, then you have to make a reasonable effort to restore it to the owner before appropriating it.

    You’re changing the facts when you say she gave notice, she never did. Simply announcing via a third party that you found a ring without identifying yourself and how to contact you is hardly notice.

    Your scenario about the engagement ring actually goes to the idea of abandonment, which is really irrelevant. The issue here is voluntarily taking possession of property that is not yours and then what you are required to do before you can simply take ownership of it.

    We don’t have to apply common law larceny because we have a statute. The statue requires reasonable measures to restore before appropriation for own use.

    And it almost seems as if the defense is conceding the lack of reasonable measures. They will focus on what constitutes appropriation for own use. I imagine this will boil down to an argument of time of possession, which will then circle back to reasonable efforts.

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