Legal Question in Legal Ethics in California

can you be arrested for trying to recycle aluminum cans from a apt complex dumpster the reason I ask is I just received a ph call from a female cousin of mine that was on her way home from a friends and decided to look for aluminum cans at a complex across the street from where she lives she s been trying to put some money together to take her cat to the veterinarian and was thinking it being super bowl sunday she would find a lot of aluminum she could recycle anyway when she was looking thru the dumpster a man came up behind her and grabbed her bike and started to walk away with it so she started telling him give me my bike and was trying to pull it away from him but could not get it he pushed her away and hit her in the chest then locked her bike up in some office on the property and would not give it back to her she says he was drunk anyway she called 911 from her cell phone and a few cars responded but only to treat her like the criminal all they did was have him get her bike out from where he had locked it up and when he did he had damaged it and took her lock that she locks it up with she just got the bike this Christmas and paid 30 dollars for the lock anyway she wanted to press charges and the officers said if she did that he would be able to do the same and she would be arrested so for her to leave and forget about her lock and not to go there again there are no private property signs posted and is not a gated complex so what could they arrest her for and shouldn't they have arrested him for stealing her bike he had it locked up when they came he was also drunk in public and he hit her that's an assault should we file a complaint I don't think their legal ethics were very good at all to just let him go after he assaulted her stole her bike and damaged it I think his charges should be much worse then anything they could have charged her with for recycling I would appreciate any input she is very shook up from the whole incident and is still crying thank you for anything you may be able to help with

Asked on 2/02/15, 4:24 am

1 Answer from Attorneys

Timothy McCormick Libris Solutions - Dispute Resolution Services

First off, you asked this question under the wrong category. "Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility" is the category for questions about the rules, laws and obligations of lawyers under the State Bar Act, the Rules of Professional Conduct and related laws. Your question is about criminal law.

Since I know the answer to your question, however, I will go ahead and answer it. It depends on whether the recyclables were in a recycling dumpster or a garbage dumpster. Taking recyclables from a recycling dumpster is clearly a crime, punishable by up to six months in jail and $1,000 fine. Bike theft is the same. So his crime is not worse, they are the same. Taking recyclables from a general garbage dumpster is less clear. In some cases it can be prosecuted as trespassing. Entering the property of an apartment complex for the sole purpose of "dumpster diving" is probably illegal trespassing.

The bottom line is that once your cousin got her bike back the police were not going to take their time from patrol and possibly dealing with much more serious crimes than handcuffing and booking your cousin and the apartment manager on charges that the DA would never prosecute.

And the real answer your cousin needs to hear is that she needs to find a better and more legal way to get some money for her cat; or at the very least lock up her bike before she goes dumpster diving for cans.

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Answered on 2/02/15, 9:11 am

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