Legal Eagle Question

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Jennifer
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Legal Eagle Question

Post by Jennifer » 17 May 2010, 12:13

There's a story in Dayton, Ohio, about a mixup at a Taco Bell; the restaurant kept its bank deposits in a regular Taco Bell bag, and accidentally gave that bag to a woman at a drive-thru.

http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/day ... 06990.html
Instead of a bag with her order, she got a bag containing the restaurant’s morning bank deposit — about $2,000.

An employee said she was working the drive-through window and mistakenly gave the customer the bank deposit. The manager explained it was store policy to put the bank bag containing the deposit in a Taco Bell bag. The manager would then drive up to the drive-through window, and an employee would hand him the bag.
I agree in such a situation she has the moral obligation to return it, if she knew the money was there ... but I am curious about the legality of this. How much legal obligation does an ordinary citizen have to fix a company's fuckups? Suppose I'm on a road trip, pull off the Interstate to go to a drive-thru, and don't notice the mixup until I'm back on the highway a few exits down? If I have to turn around and return it, that'll seriously throw me off schedule. I might not even be able to return it, because I don't remember which exit off the Interstate I took.

Or here's another what-if: I buy what I think is a bag of fast food, get distracted and leave it in my car all afternoon or overnight -- there's no way I'll risk eating a bean burrito that's been in my car all day, so I'd just throw the bag in the garbage without looking in it first. If it turns out that bag actually contained the restaurant bank deposit, am I liable? What legal obligation do I have to check the contents of a bag I bought and paid for before I throw it out?
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Mo » 17 May 2010, 12:28

This is why all money should be transported in a small sack with a dollar sign on it.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 17 May 2010, 12:47

It has nothing to do with whether it's a company or a private individual. There was no donative intent; that is, the employee didn't intend to give the customer a bag of money and even if he had he would not have had the authority to do so. The money is not the customer's notwithstanding the fact that she had possession of it and she is legally obligated to turn it over, either to the restaurant manager or at the very least to the police with an explanation. If she doesn't, the moment she intends to keep the money she has become a thief.

EDIT: To respond to the hypothetical. Well, unless and until the woman knows it's cash, she has a negligent (no pun intended) obligation regarding the contents of the bag. (Assuming, that is, that it wasn't obviously a deposit bag or had $$ signs all over it). And if she did, in fact, toss it under those circumstances, I doubt a case could be made to hold her liable for the loss. From notice comes duty, however; and once she does know the contents she does have a legal obligation to safeguard and turn over the money.

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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Jennifer » 17 May 2010, 12:54

D.A. Ridgely wrote:It has nothing to do with whether it's a company or a private individual. There was no donative intent; that is, the employee didn't intend to give the customer a bag of money and even if he had he would not have had the authority to do so. The money is not the customer's notwithstanding the fact that she had possession of it and she is legally obligated to turn it over, either to the restaurant manager or at the very least to the police with an explanation. If she doesn't, the moment she intends to keep the money she has become a thief.
Oh, I know that if she realizes the money is there, she is not allowed to keep it. But can she be legally liable if she claims she never knew about it? Like in my earlier example: she says she left it in her car when she went to work, then threw it away that afternoon without looking in the bag -- how can anyone prove otherwise? For that matter, maybe she really DID throw it away without realizing what was in it. It's unlikely, I Know, but plausible. Suppose she really truly did throw the bag away unopened, thinking it contained an old burrito rather than a wad of cash -- can she be held legally liable for it? That's why I was asking what, if any, obligation I have to look in a fast-food bag before I toss it.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 17 May 2010, 13:01

*shrug* Whether something is a crime and whether it can be successfully prosecuted are two different things. No, you have no obligation to look in your fast food bag first before you throw it out. I'd say such a claim, though possibly true, falls short of plausible, but it's a question of fact for police and prosecutor to decide in charging or prosecuting and for the judge or jury to decide at trial.

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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Mo » 17 May 2010, 13:07

IANAL, but I doubt they would prosecute you if you honestly tossed it out. If you claimed you tossed it out, but just happened to purchase a new Movado that same day, I'm sure they'd be a wee bit suspicious.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Warren » 17 May 2010, 13:13

I accept that legally she is obligated to return the money. Ethically however, she is obligated to not return the money. A business that puts it's bank deposits in a paper bag needs to suffer the loss. Otherwise it's a moral hazard penalizing fast food outlets that aren't managed by idiots.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Jennifer » 17 May 2010, 13:24

Warren wrote:I accept that legally she is obligated to return the money. Ethically however, she is obligated to not return the money. A business that puts it's bank deposits in a paper bag needs to suffer the loss. Otherwise it's a moral hazard penalizing fast food outlets that aren't managed by idiots.
Oddly, I'd go with the exact opposite: she definitely has an ethical obligation to return it if she knows about it, but not necessarily a legal obligation unless it can be proven beyond doubt she knew damned well it was there.

Thing is, I am absentminded enough that I could easily see myself tossing out two grand of someone else's money without realizing it. I will frequently forget to eat -- as in, it's only five in the afternoon, I don't understand why I'm so tired, and then I realize I've been up since nine that morning and have not eaten anything all day. Just yesterday, I put something in the microwave -- it was one of those things where you're supposed to microwave it, then let it sit for a minute before you eat it -- but during that minute I got distracted helping Jeff take our old loveseat down to the curb, and I forgot all about my microwave snack until about eight hours later, when I went to microwave something else and found my abandoned snack in there.

So now I have something new to worry about: cop shows up at my door and accuses me of stealing money I had no idea I ever had.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by thoreau » 17 May 2010, 13:49

First, I agree that ethically you shouldn't go around accepting other people's large and costly innocent mistakes.

Legally, I will defer to the lawyers on what the law actually says. However, as a citizen subject to the law I can have an opinion on what sort of laws I would like to be subject to, and I do share Jennifer's concern that a person who makes an innocent mistake (e.g. throws something out thinking that it's just a burrito rather than cash) could face significant consequences. Fortunately, I suspect that Mo is right: If you claim that you threw out the bag of money because you thought it was a burrito, it would probably be easy to establish reasonable doubt if you didn't make a bunch of big and unexpected purchases and didn't go around bragging to friends about the money you found. So I think that in practice the situation of concern is not likely to happen much. Then again, what about civil liability? There the burden of proof is, as I understand it, preponderance of evidence rather than reasonable doubt.

However, in the end I suspect that most people who receive property that they shouldn't have received will know exactly what happened, and will either do the right thing or the wrong thing. Very, very, very few will mistake the cash for a burrito and trash it. I'm not going to lose sleep over whether the law has specifically allowed for this, and in the rare cases where it happens, well, judges and juries have a certain amount of discretion precisely because the law can't be written to account for every conceivable scenario.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Warren » 17 May 2010, 13:54

thoreau wrote:First, I agree that ethically you shouldn't go around accepting other people's large and costly innocent mistakes.
Oh I completely agree with that. But that isn't the case here. In this case they put their bank deposits in a paper Taco Bell bag. This was a guilty mistake. They are guilty of hellastupid.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by thoreau » 17 May 2010, 14:00

OK, fair enough. On general principles they deserve to lose that money, or at least be pimp-slapped upside the head.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Jennifer » 17 May 2010, 14:02

thoreau wrote: Then again, what about civil liability? There the burden of proof is, as I understand it, preponderance of evidence rather than reasonable doubt.
That's what worries me more than any criminal charges. I have on many occasions, say, made or bought coffee and then forgot about it until it was too cold to drink, or bought a fast-food item, brought it to work, then forgot about it until it was too cold to be worth eating. And I know damn well my tendency to literally forget to eat makes me damned odd by most people's standards, so odd a juror might think I'm full of shit when I say so.

When I buy something and forget to eat or drink it in a reasonable time period, I accept the consequences "I wasted the two bucks I just spent," but damned if I accept the additional consequence "I had to go to court for a lawsuit, and I lost, and now I have to shell out two thousand bucks to the Taco Bell where I thought I'd bought an uneaten quesadilla."
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Kolohe » 17 May 2010, 14:10

I agree with warren. Putting their night receipts in the same container as one puts a chulupa is not quite as bad as say storing the ammonia cleaning fluid in a sprite bottle but close.

(and warren and j sub d and sol and randian and #6 likely all have stories of people who have mixed up their dip spit cans with cans that it was thought their was soda therein)
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Ellie » 17 May 2010, 14:14

Kolohe wrote:(and warren and j sub d and sol and randian and #6 likely all have stories of people who have mixed up their dip spit cans with cans that it was thought their was soda therein)
I once mixed up my fresh soda can with the day-old half-full can I'd been using to ash my cigarette and spit out my ranch-flavored sunflower seed hulls.

It was approximately the worst moment in the history of several universes.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Number 6 » 17 May 2010, 14:17

Most banks will give their business customers marked and lockable deposit bags. Just sayin'.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Jennifer » 17 May 2010, 14:20

Number 6 wrote:Most banks will give their business customers marked and lockable deposit bags. Just sayin'.
The story said they deliberately avoided using those, because that basically advertises to any thief "Lots of money worth stealin', here!"

Giving the money in a Taco Bell bag to the manager at the drive-thru actually does make sense -- but I would not put the money in the bag until the manager was actually at the window. There's no way I'd prepare that bag o'money in advance and put it in the same queue as the bags of drive-thru food orders.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Kolohe » 17 May 2010, 14:28

Well I thought the modus operandi for places like these were to dump all the cash into a safe that nobody on the premises could open and then have brinks guys take it over to the bank during the day
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 17 May 2010, 14:45

The customer can't be held civilly liable for the lost cash unless she can first be shown to have had a duty to the restaurant. She had no duty to open the bag. If she did open the bag, then she knew the money was there and she did have a duty to return it. Failure to return it would not only be the crime of larceny but a civil wrong (trover or conversion or some such -- I've long since forgotten that crap). However, if she didn't open it but just tossed it in a dumpster somewhere, then she was not liable. Moreover, in any attempt to prove liability on the part of the customer resulting from negligence, she could raise an additional defense of contributory (or, in some states, comparative) negligence on the part of the restaurant personnel.

Now, I can tell you what the law is until I'm blue in the face, but I can't tell you that in the real world the cops or the prosecutor or the judge or the jury won't screw it up. Viewed from a purely theoretical perspective, however, the customer is not responsible for the loss unless and until she opens the bag, an act she had no duty to perform.

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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by lunchstealer » 17 May 2010, 15:54

In my view, she's legally obligated to return the money, and to a lesser extent morally obligated. But I'd fault a prosecutor who went after her unless she flaunted it - bragged about it publically, or went immediately on a massive and ostentatious spending spree. I'd think that they should need to show that she deposited or spent the money beyond a reasonable doubt, not just that she received the money and didn't return it. If, say, she had made an anonymous donation to a charity or some such, I'd want police and prosecutors to quietly drop the matter.

My idea boils down to this: Since many people do not recognize that they have a legal obligation under these circumstances, it is inherently unjust to nail someone for this sort of thing without quietly either allowing the person to return the money (or if they've spent a good portion thereof, to repay to the best of their ability). Ultimately this should be a civil issue, not a criminal issue, barring egregious behavior on the part of the customer.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Warren » 17 May 2010, 17:11

Jennifer wrote:
Number 6 wrote:Most banks will give their business customers marked and lockable deposit bags. Just sayin'.
The story said they deliberately avoided using those, because that basically advertises to any thief "Lots of money worth stealin', here!"

Giving the money in a Taco Bell bag to the manager at the drive-thru actually does make sense -- but I would not put the money in the bag until the manager was actually at the window. There's no way I'd prepare that bag o'money in advance and put it in the same queue as the bags of drive-thru food orders.
I should have RTFA more closelier. So they were using a bank bag, they were just masking it with the TB bag. I guess if I was worried about getting mugged in the parking lot, I'd feel safer picking up the day's receipts from inside my vehicle. Even so, there should be a very limited number of people allowed to handle that bag, and the girl working the drive-through ain't one of them.

EDIT,
Now that I think about it, If she passed that bag out more than twice before, I'd lay even money she was in on it.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Pham Nuwen » 18 May 2010, 22:40

Warren wrote:Now that I think about it, If she passed that bag out more than twice before, I'd lay even money she was in on it.
Yep. Customers are small time thieves compared to employees.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Jennifer » 21 May 2010, 11:37

Here's another legal or legalish question, not worth starting a whole new thread over: whenever you read of those unfortunate human trafficking cases, where immigrants were smuggled in to a country and effectively forced to work as slaves, the trafficker/enslaver always seems to grab the immigrant's passport. But how does that really screw the immigrant so badly? If -- for example -- I had the miserable luck to be the enslaved maid of some Saudi shithead, and I run to the American embassy in Riyadh and tell them what has happened, and explain that I don't have my passport because the Saudi shithead took it -- what, that's it? The embassy officials would say "We're not doing shit for you unless you show us your passport?"

If simply confiscating that little booklet is all it takes for all passport protections to vanish then the whole thing just seems like an enormous waste of time and money.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by J sub D » 21 May 2010, 11:49

And one more legal quandry from my fair city. Here is the scenario in a nutshell.
  • Thug robs and carjacks Citizen #1.
    While thug is driving away, Citizen #1 gets firearm and shoots at thug.
    Bullet hits and kills Citizen #2 who is preparing dinner in her home.
    Thug is charged with murder for the death of Citizen #2.
I understand that if somebody dies during the commision of a felony you can be charged with murder. e.g the getaway driver can be charged with murder if the gunman kills somebody in the bank. I fully support that. Still, this seems a bit of a stretch. Are there any precedents out there that would validate charging the thug with the murder of Citizen #2?
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Warren » 21 May 2010, 11:50

Thinking out loud:
If you could make it to the American embassy you'd be alright. I think the idea is that you couldn't get plane tickets or maybe even train tickets or just around the block without identification. And of course the local police are part of the system so when you get picked up you're in a worse situation than before.
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Re: Legal Eagle Question

Post by Kolohe » 21 May 2010, 11:51

:idea: I think the short answer is that not all countries and thus not all embasies are created equal. Plus you actually have to be able to get to nearest embassy or consulate which in many cases could be farther away than the nearest intl airport

Also taking away the passport is just one and generally not the most significant leverage used in "trafficking in persons"

Edit: or what warren said - although it's obviously his fault the wifi was interrupted delaying my answer
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