UPDATE: Statement made in public defender charged with felony theft of lost or mislaid property

By: Staff Email
By: Staff Email
Alexia Dawn Davis (WRDW-TV)

Alexia Dawn Davis (WRDW-TV)

Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW) -- A public defender with the Augusta judicial circuit has been charged with felony theft of lost or mislaid property.

Alexia Davis was arrested after Capt. Steve Morris said she failed to take reasonable measures to restore property to the rightful owner under Georgia law.

Jane Prater of Thomson lost a ring in the parking lot of the Cracker Barrel on Park West Drive on Feb. 7. The ring has an estimated value of $11,000, according to the police.

A server at the restaurant told police she was approached by a woman who asked what she should do if she found a ring. The server said she declined to put it in the company's lost in found and said she'd contact the Sheriff's Office.

Police said the woman who spoke with the server was accompanied by Davis, who had it in her possession.

Davis was released from Columbia County Jail on $2,600 bond.

Here is a statement made by the law office of Tanya D. Jeffords and Associates regarding the incident:
"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."

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