A report by Greg Sandoval of CNET stated that police are investigating the circumstances of the event to determine if there is enough evidence to support criminal prosecution.
Gizmodo announced paying $5,000 for what it believed to be a prototype of Apple's forthcoming new iPhone model, after finding a seller who had claimed to possess the device after finding it in a bar.
CNET said it "has not been able to confirm whether the investigation is targeting Gizmodo.com, its source who reportedly found the iPhone in a bar, or both."
Gawker Media, Gizmodo's owner, has previously floated offers to pay sources for access to unreleased Apple products in order to publish the company's trade secrets on its Valleywag tech gossip site. After Apple objected to the offer, Gawker taunted the company by saying it would keep its leaks anonymous.
The report noted that California law states that anyone who finds lost property and knows who the likely owner is, but "appropriates such property to his own use" is guilty of theft. Taking property valued at more than $400 can result in more serious charges of grand theft.
Additionally, Californian law also states that any person who knowingly receives property that has been obtained illegally can be imprisoned for up to one year.
While First Amendment rights granting freedom of the press have supported Supreme Court rulings to allow members of the media to broadcast confidential information, the buying and selling stolen property are separate criminal law issues. California also has trade secret laws that would enable Apple to seek civil damages related to the incident.
In previous legal arguments, Apple argued that it suffers significant damages from leaks related to its unreleased products. "If these trade secrets are revealed, competitors can anticipate and counter Apple's business strategy, and Apple loses control over the timing and publicity for its product launches," the company wrote.