Originally Posted by macslut
One major point of law here that you're overlooking is that ignorance of the law is *never* an excuse.
That's absolutely incorrect. For example, Virginia enacted some draconian speeding fines a few years back. We're talking about $1,200 fines for speeding. It was determined that this law could not apply to out-of-state residents, because they could not be expected to be aware of such massive fines. So ignorance is sometimes a defense. You lose.
It's not going to work for Gizmodo any more than it will for the "finder". The only thing that could apply that would distinguish the two is if Gizmodo didn't know they were buying something that was stolen...not that they didn't know the law, but rather that they didn't know the "finder" wasn't the rightful owner of the property. Gizmodo claims they knew the "finder" found the phone and published the circumstances around the finding and failure to return.
That remains to be seen. I tend to think otherwise. It may not have been reasonable to expect Gizmodo to know that the phone would be considered stolen when it was actually lost. The issue here is you're confusing moral obligations with legal ones. Of course they knew the finder wasn't the rightful owner, but that doesn't make the item legally "stolen" (or..it might..but Gizmodo probably didn't know this).
Sections 485 and 496 of the California Penal Code aren't relatively obscure statutes. The "dating back to 1872" is misleading as many very important laws date far back in time (murder, rape, etc...). People are prosecuted by these laws all of the time. California Civil Code 2080 deals with the process of handling found property, and check your police station for how often they have auctions for property that was returned but then not claimed.
If there's some good that comes out of all of this, maybe a lot of people who find stuff will now realize that they have legal responsibilities if they take possession of what they find.
Thanks, professor. I was merely using the language in the article. I was not attempting to imply the law was dated and therefore not enforced or unknown. I was just being specific. As for "obscure," I suppose that's relative. Frankly, I don't see how someone would be expected to know that a lost item would be considered legally stolen in some circumstances, nor do I know if ignorance of said law is a defense in this case. But it might
be...or it might be enough for the prosecutor to refrain from charging Gizmodo's editors.