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Feeding birds gets them to behave different, we all know that. Allegedly, someone feeding crows turned the neighborhood crows to turn them into an active deterrent for thieves - and an alert that an old man fell, but that's not what we want to look into.

Feeding crows can lead to them bringing stuff. Feeding them better allegedly makes them bring the stuff that made you feed them better more. So let's take this pattern as fact:

  • Alice, living in Eastchester/Westchester County/New York feeds the local crows with bread. After one crow brought a 10-dollar bill, she fed them with premium bread. The birds started bringing dollar bills they got from somewhere.
    • Alice believes the bills are found somewhere on the ground or likely lost by people. She pockets them.
  • Bob in the neighboring community has a problem with thinking all bills are dirty, so he washes all dollar bills he gets, writes down their serials, and puts them out to dry on his roof. This is the place the crows get the cash from.
  • Bob notices the thieving birds, follows them, and discovers that Alice is receiving his cash. He calls the police but...

Is Alice in possession of stolen property or at all liable for the wild crow's acts?

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  • 1
    There's a Donald Duck comic story exactly about this (except that it's trained pigeons). reddit.com/r/europe/comments/99we5h/comment/e4qwz1f Nov 27, 2023 at 10:37
  • 1
    "Theft by finding"
    – Richard
    Nov 27, 2023 at 18:01
  • 3
    @schrödingcöder it doesn't even have to be Alice instigating it - some monkeys have learned the intrinsic value of different items to humans and barter for their return
    – roganjosh
    Nov 28, 2023 at 18:02
  • Can you explain any difference between Alice training crows, and Alice using an extending fruit-picker to steal whatever it is? If the crows have volition on a human scale, they are guilty at least as accessories with the possible defence that they were incompetent to understand the difference between finding and stealing. If the crows have no relevant volition, why should the Court view them as different to Alice's fruit-picker, or any other kind of grab-arm? Nov 29, 2023 at 22:12
  • @RobbieGoodwin they are not owned in any way, they were not actively trained to get money, just rewarded for bringing it. It was dumbluck that the crows started bringing cash at the first date, encouraged by the bread getting better.
    – Trish
    Nov 30, 2023 at 6:05

2 Answers 2

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This answer assumes no further intention than is disclosed in the question. If Alice had heightened or more precise intentions, that would change the analysis and could transform the scenario to be criminal.

The cash is Bob's

The common law position is that the finder of a chattel acquires a title that is good against the entire world except for the true owner.

There is a large body of case law establishing what it means to abandon, and placing things on one's own roof for a short duration is clearly not abandonment. Given that Bob has not abandoned the cash, Bob is still the true owner of the cash.

Alice has converted it

The property has been "converted" by Alice (to some extent accidentally, but conversion can be largely accidental).

An action for conversion does not rest on knowledge or intent of the defendant. The act constituting "conversion" must be an intentional act, but does not require wrongful intent, and is not excused by care, good faith, or lack of knowledge.

(Wikipedia:Conversion, citing case law from around the U.S.)

The "intention" required by Alice is simply the intention to have this cash once the bird brings it to her. To have converted it, she does not need to have intended that it come from a true owner. She does not need to know that there even is a true owner. She can even have the belief that it was mislaid or abandoned property. As long as Alice intends to have the cash, and that cash happens to be someone else's, this is conversion.

That might seem harsh, but conversion does not have a high stigma. It is recognized that it can be "accidental" in the sense of your hypothetical. And the remedy for accidental conversion is mild: return of the property or its value.

Bob has a right to have it returned

If all of the facts in the hypothetical are proved, Bob would have the remedy of replevin or detinue available which would result in the cash or its value being returned to him.

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    So essentially the crow’s involvement is irrelevant, right? Alice might have as well found the money in the street. Nov 26, 2023 at 15:38
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    @user57467 What in this answer do you interpret as hinging on Alice admitting intent to steal the cash?
    – Sneftel
    Nov 26, 2023 at 19:03
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    Hypothetical? Who said it's hypothetical? :)
    – osiris
    Nov 26, 2023 at 22:05
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    @Mentalist Alice's investment of time and effort does not make the money hers. It takes time and effort to become a good pickpocket or safe cracker, but that doesn't mean that money obtained from using those skill is therefore yours.
    – R.M.
    Nov 27, 2023 at 12:54
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    @spectras: What if the crows form a caw-poration?
    – psmears
    Nov 27, 2023 at 15:46
4

Alice believes the bills are found somewhere on the ground or likely lost by people. She pockets them.

The question seems to assume this is legal. Chapter 41 Section 252 of the laws of New York states that you have 10 days to return it or report it to the authorities or you could be liable for a fine and/or jail time. That applies if the property is worth $20 or more, and I would argue multiple amounts 'found' this same way should be totaled for the purposes of the law.

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    I'm not coivinced by your totaling opinion. So every day you find a $1 bill on the street. If you achieve this for 3 weeks, you have to turn it into the police?
    – Barmar
    Nov 28, 2023 at 5:09
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    I doubt it. I was more talking about sitting on your balcony as the you feed the crow bread and it brings you a $5 bill four times for four pieces of bread. I bet they could make that fly if they discovered your scheme and wanted to prosecute under that statute. Nov 28, 2023 at 14:09
  • I have a hard time believing that someone could be considered liable for actions taken by random birds that happen to work in their favor. Maybe if someone had a pet bird that they'd purposely trained to do their dirty work.
    – Barmar
    Nov 29, 2023 at 2:51
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    The statute deals with found money. If a $20 bill floated down to your 5th floor apartment balcony after blowing in the wind, it would apply to that as well. "Finders keepers" is a children's saying, but it's not the law. And if you're found to be feeding a bird that keeps bringing you cash, I don't really think it would be too hard for a jury to find that it was a scheme you intended and rise to the level of outright theft. More likely than someone drying his money on the roof would be the birds getting the money from tips left on tables on a restaurant's patio. Nov 29, 2023 at 3:14

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