Would you call this woman a thief?

If you don’t like these hypotheticals, why are you reading this?

Today’s story is about Iris, a twentysomething single mother working at a call lcenter. Iris commutes by bus, something that’s been a problem recently because of a fellow rider, Eddie, who works at a McDonald’s in the same complex as she doesk. A few weeks ago Eddie starting trying to chat her up at the bus stop. The first time it happened, Iris told him she was flattered but concentrating on work right now. The next time met he sat beside her on the bus even though there were plenty of empty seats; he asked her why she didn’t want to go out with him, and she told him it was none of his business. The third time he said that she must be a a dyke and should let him cure her, and that was the nicest thing he said to her from that point on. He seemed determined to make her cry; she succeeded only in not weeping in front of him. One day he got handsy enough to make her drop her cell phone, breaking it; and though it was only a $10 flip, that was a sawbuck she could ill afford. Another time he made her late for work, earning her a chewing out from her asshole boss.

Monday, riding the bus home, Iris was half asleep when a loud, familiar voice roused her. It was Eddie, sitting in a seat across from and a little in front of her, talking animatedly on his cell phone; luckily Iris had a seatmate already, so he’d been unable to harass her per usual. Keepng a wary eye on him, Iris noticed that he had a wad of cash sticking out of one jacket pocket. So absorbed was he in his phone call lthat he didn’t notice when Iris’s seatmate got off. More importantly, he didn’t notice when some of his cash fell out. It was late, and they were the last two passengers. Still talking on his phone when they arrived at his stop, Eddie left the fallen money on the seat. When they got to Iris’s stop a few minutes later, she paused when long enough to pocket the fallen bills – over two hundred dollars. She saw him the next morning and said nothing about it. That afternoon she spent the money on a nicer phone, diapers, some gloves, and groceries.

Would you call Iris a thief? Why or why not?

Technically, no. He didn’t notice he’d lost the money, she didn’t tell him she found it and kept it. Now, if she’d pulled it out of his pocket she’d be a thief. In this scenario she just didn’t call out to him he dropped some cash.

And where is the bus driver in this? Doesn’t he notice one of his passengers is being regularly harassed?

You forgot the part about her Evil Stepmother and how Eddie likes to kick puppies.

Yes, she’s a thief.

Yep, theft

Does it matter? The question isn’t “What should the bus driver have done to protect Iris?”

Anyway, the hypo doesn’t say all the harassment happened on the bus. They work in the same complex. Eddie might have been doing the worst of it off the bus.

Yes, she is a thief. I’m not necessarily mad at her but she took something that did not belong to her. Just because she didn’t actually wrangle it out of his pocket doesn’t negate that fact. If the story had been about the kindly old lady she always rode with and the same thing happened, we’d all be calling her a rat bastard. Just because Eddie is a schmuck doesn’t mean that gives her a free pass to his money.

Of course she’s a thief.

She’s a sympathetic thief and her victim is unsympathetic.

Technically, yes. She knows the money belonged to Eddie, she took it without his permission or consent, and she had the intent to permanently deprive him of his property. Stealing from an asshole is still stealing.


What means this word “sympathetic”?


Anyway, part of the reason I posted this is a discussion I overheard two complete nitwits having at work; one was opining that calling someone a thief implies that she or he habitually steals, so a person who only steals once is not properly called a thief.

Thief. She took money that she knew belonged to someone else. No different than if she lifted it from his pocket. But I’m glad the guy lost out in the deal.

Yeah she is a thief (I guess) but I wouldn’t blame her for taking the money.

Not a thief. She didn’t take Eddie’s money, she took money that she found abandoned on a seat. Whose money it was before that is of no relevance to her.

Cite: Supreme Court, Finders v. Weepers, 1979.

Nah. She saw it fall out of his pocket. She knew it was his, and took it. That’s theft, so she is a thief.

Thief status does not depend on the jerkishness or bad behavior of the person one steals from. (I seem to recall hearing somewhere that two wrongs don’t make a right.) In the situation described, Iris is no more or less a thief than if she and Eddie had had no previous interaction whatsoever.

She’s a thief. Totally. And I give her a high five her for it.


But, I’m okay with it.

I would not consider this woman a thief if she held a gun to Eddie’s head on a weekly basis and demanded he hand over $200 dollars also on a weekly basis as compensation for his harassment of her. The lost $200 is karma in action.

Was his name on the money? Was it registered at the county clerk?

The moment he abandoned the money through his own gross negligence it ceased to belong to him, and became the rightful properrty of whoever was lucky enough to find it. True, the decent thing to do would be to return it, but Iris was under no obligation to make any effort to do so, and decency was something he had waived any ight to.

Is there a clear legal line between “in someone’s possession” and “abandoned”?

If I drop a valuable object and you get to it before I can pick it up, is it legally yours? What if I set it down beside me? What if I set it down and walk a short distance away? What if I set it down and leave the room but come back for it later? How much time and/or space does there have to be between me and it before you can take it without it being theft?