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February 18, 2006

Those Wacky Judges!

Sometimes a court ruling seems counterintuitive, but once you find out the specifics of the case you understand that it's actually batshit crazy.

Case in point: Remember these guys?

Two men who claimed in numerous national television interviews that they found buried treasure in the back yard of a home were arrested early Friday after being questioned by police, who said the money was stolen.

They got off:

LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) -- A judge threw out charges Friday against four men accused of stealing antique money they originally claimed to have found buried in a backyard.

Police determined the men actually found the money last April in an old barn that three of them had been hired to repair.

Their lawyers had sought the dismissal, arguing that the money was abandoned property because nobody knew it was in the barn.

Makes sense to me. Look it up. That law is on the books in Massachusetts as 'Finders-Keepers, Neener-neener,' for well-known thief Bob Neener-neener. His entire family was on the State Legislature.

UPDATE: Hubris comes in from another angle.

The key point is that unless MA law modifies the common law (and that could be the case, I have no idea), the owner of the barn never owned the money if it was hidden by a (now-dead) person and the barn owner never knew about it. It was there for the taking by any person who found it. It wouldn't be stealing.

You learn something new everyday. And it's never anything good.

UPDATE II: From Michael:

The choice as to who gets the treasure (property owner, finder, state) is purely practical -- choosing the finder minimizes disputes, and also minimizes illegal conduct because 96.2% of finders are going to try to keep the treasure anyway.

Note that the issue is far different if the "treasure" is simply lost by a living owner. Now, the utility of "finders keepers" is trumped by the sanctity of property rights. So, let's say you dropped your wallet at the liquor store whilst stocking up on Val-U-Rite Vodka. Somebody else finds it. You still have good title to the wallet and everything in it. If you can identify the finder, your rights are superior to his. The social expectation is that a lost wallet gets turned in to the "lost & found" box of the property owner (the liquor store), to be held in safekeeping in the event you return to claim it. If you don't, the finder has the next best claim.

Thanks guys.
I appreciate the clarification.
I'll never let a tradesman in my home again without being present for every little excavation or wall-opening.

digg this
posted by Laura. at 05:06 PM

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