Legal ramifications of fictional scenario...
January 31, 2008 8:35 PM   Subscribe

Someone takes your child and leaves a bag of cash. What happens to the money? Is it taken permanently by cops/feds and kept as evidence or is it yours to keep? (Note, I'm only interested in the legal answer, not the moral one.) Yes, this is hypothetical but for a story I'm working on.
posted by dobbs to Law & Government (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think that initially the police would take it, and would hold it pending investigation. Once they determined where the money came from, then a decision would be made as to what would be done with it.

For instance, the money could be stolen. In that case, it would go back to the original owner.

The one thing I'm certain of is that the parent wouldn't get it immediately -- unless he decided to conceal it from the cops. Which would be stupid and unlikely, if for no other reason than because investigating the money might provide clues about the kidnapper and increase the chance of the kid being returned. I think most parents would rather forgo immediate monetary gratification in order to increase the chance of getting their kids back safe.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:52 PM on January 31, 2008


I think the operative question is, did you attempt to sell your child? If that's what you did, and selling children is legal in your locality, then yes the payment is yours. Otherwise there's no reason why cash that happens to appear at the same time your child disappears is yours unless you can leverage some sort of salvage law, I would think. IANAL in any locality.
posted by XMLicious at 8:53 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


P.S. Don't forget to give them a receipt.
posted by XMLicious at 8:54 PM on January 31, 2008


It's an abduction and has nothing to do with the money.

The money would be considered evidence and retained

You have no claim to the money whatsoever

The money would be eventually paid into consolidated revenue

You may have a hard time convincing the authorities that you hadn't sold the child
posted by mattoxic at 9:01 PM on January 31, 2008


It's not very difficult to convey title to cash. An overt action evincing an intention to convey title is generally sufficient (e.g. putting cash in a birthday card, or leaving cash on a restaurant table). No recitation of "magic words" is necessary.

I don't think analyzing the hypothetical as a sale or a contract is quite right, because I read the child-taking and cash-leaving as having happened without the knowledge, consent, or agreement of the parents, and there doesn't seem to be any way to reject the "offer."

It looks like a gratuitous conveyance of title to cash + a kidnapping to me. Of course, any particular jurisdiction might have law on this point, and I'm talking out of my ass, but I think the cash belongs to the parents (assuming the cash belonged to the kidnapper--it gets more complicated if it didn't). I imagine the police will want to take the cash as evidence, and your jurisdiction might have a law allowing the seizure of any cash "involved" in a crime, but as a general matter, I don't see why you shouldn't get it back eventually.

IAAL, but this is so far outside the realm of my practice that I might as well not be.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 9:13 PM on January 31, 2008


In the short term, the police would more than likely confiscate the money as evidence of a crime, of some sort. Exactly what would be up to a prosecuting attorney.

But let's say there's no evidence whatsoever that the crime of kidnapping has anything to do with the money. Let's just say that there's evidence of an incredible coincidence, of money dropping out of the clear blue sky at the same time the child is kidnapped and the two things are not related.

You would indeed have a claim to the money. There are many layers of possession law that would have to be worked through here, and layers of intent to deal with (where did the money come from, exactly? who owned it before it came into your possession? what was that person's intent? is this money merely misplaced?).

It would take a long time to work through this with police, starting with separating the two events -- the money and the missing child.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:14 PM on January 31, 2008


I would imagine the question of where they left it is hypothetically relevant -- is the assumption that the child was abducted from the home, and that's also where the cash was left?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:15 PM on January 31, 2008


What moral question?
posted by Corduroy at 9:21 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, it's for something I'm writing. At the moment, I have the money being left where the child was (the same actual seat at the same time the child is taken) in a scenario that makes it unlikely that the child was sold--though of course the suspicion of officials occurred to me.

I read the child-taking and cash-leaving as having happened without the knowledge, consent, or agreement of the parents, and there doesn't seem to be any way to reject the "offer."

Yes, that's how I intended it.

I suppose another way of phrasing my question would be "Where (geographically--anywhere in the world) and how could the scenario unfold where the people *could* legally keep the money?" Since it's a story, I can obviously change whatever details.

However, the answers so far lead me to believe that if I separate the two events (abduction; receiving of cash) by time and/or space, the legalities go out the window. For instance, if the child is taken and at some later pt in time a bag of cash appears, the cash becomes the legal property of the receiver. Is that a correct understanding?

If that is correct, it seems to me that the abduction is irrelevant (to my question). That is, if I come home one day and find a package, addressed to me, containing a significant sum of cash but no indication of sender, does it become mine?
posted by dobbs at 9:28 PM on January 31, 2008


I guess the money would be considered abandoned property and assuming you found it and claimed it, I guess you'd get it back. Or of course it could be considered the proceeds of an illegal contract in which case I kind of doubt you'd get it. Of course this is my off the cuff, I'm just guessing opinion and does not constitute legal advice, ianal etc etc etc
posted by whoaali at 9:36 PM on January 31, 2008


How about you have the miscreants leave a solid gold statue of the kid instead? The Maltese Toddler.

©2008 XMLicious. I want royalties!

Regarding getting mailed cash, I think the amount of cash affects things. Small amounts can be transferred easily but it's my impression that there are more legalities involved in large amounts of cash changing hands (due to efforts to prevent money laundering.)
posted by XMLicious at 9:44 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


The money would be seized by the police, and rights to it would be forfeited (depending on local law) because it is part of a crime.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 9:44 PM on January 31, 2008


I don't think it's "abandoned" if someone sends it in a package, addressed specifically to you. Property is abandoned when the owner relinquishes title without passing it to someone else.

I admit, this is hard to analyze as a conveyance, though, because anonymously sending someone a box of cash is such a weird thing to do. It's kind of unclear what the sender intended to happen. Still, the sender clearly intended to transfer possession of the cash, and there's no explicit indication here (or reasonable expectation) that the recipient of the anonymous box of cash should hold the cash for the benefit of the sender.

I think the most reasonable interpretation of anonymously transferring possession of cash is as a conveyance of title.

If the box included a note saying, "here, this cash is for you," I think it gets a lot easier.

Keep in mind that there could be all sorts of specific laws governing receipts of cash in any particular jurisdiction, but as a general matter, under background U.S. legal principles, I don't think it's unreasonable to have your story conclude that the recipient owns the cash.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 9:48 PM on January 31, 2008


I'm trying to wrap my head around the concept. Someone is evil enough to kidnap a child but principled enough to leave money?

Legally I'm sure the police will hold it as evidence until the crime is solved. Normally found money is held for a period of time and then if no owner is found it goes to the finder but since it's evidence that wouldn't apply here. If the crime is solved then the police have found the owner so I guess it would go back to him, he'll need it for a lawyer I guess.
posted by Bonzai at 11:03 PM on January 31, 2008


I don't see any plausible scenario where the money would be kept immediately by the parents, except one. Even if it arrived later, by anonymous delivery, the police would still take it if there was any suspicion at all that it had come from the kidnappers -- which is basically your plot.

The only way the parents would be able to keep it is if they didn't let the police know about it.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:08 PM on January 31, 2008


Oddly enough, the cash from an unknown source thing (but no kidnapped child) just happened in my hometown this month. The cops arrested a drug dealer, but may have missed some of his cached cash in the drip tray of the fridge -- where it was found by the next tenants.

The cops say if they can't prove it was related to the crime, it's finders keepers. (Which is eminently sensible and very Wisconsin. I know a lot of places would make it a RICO seizure before you can say "new body armor".)
posted by dhartung at 11:09 PM on January 31, 2008


Am I right in thinking that it only matters if the child is actually reported missing. If the police don't know a crime has been committed then who is going to confiscate the money?
posted by knapah at 8:12 AM on February 1, 2008


Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America writes "I admit, this is hard to analyze as a conveyance, though, because anonymously sending someone a box of cash is such a weird thing to do. It's kind of unclear what the sender intended to happen."

In Canada it is pretty clear cut that if someone mails you a good unsolicited it's yours free and clear. They can't bill you or attempt to claim it back. I'm pretty sure the sender's intent doesn't come into play.
posted by Mitheral at 9:58 AM on February 1, 2008


Thanks for the answers y'all.
posted by dobbs at 11:20 AM on February 1, 2008


"In Canada it is pretty clear cut that if someone mails you a good unsolicited it's yours free and clear. They can't bill you or attempt to claim it back. I'm pretty sure the sender's intent doesn't come into play."

That's generally true in the States as well, ya Canuck-centrist.
posted by klangklangston at 11:26 AM on February 1, 2008


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