The police may seize and confiscate a person’s property during arrest. Usually this is done pursuant to warrant requirements, though there are several instances where warrantless searches for property are justified.
Common reasons that police may confiscate personal property include:
- Evidence/Investigation purposes: Using property as evidence in a criminal trial is the main reason why property is confiscated. If the property will be used as evidence in trial, it will usually be held by authorities until the case is concluded. It may sometimes be signed in and out of a log for use in the trial.
- Contraband: Property that is illegal to own is known as contraband. Seized contraband is usually held as evidence and then destroyed after its use in court.
- Forfeiture: This is property that has been seized because it is the proceeds or an instrumentality in the commission of a crime. Common items include cash, weapons, and drug paraphernalia.
- Safekeeping: This is property that the arrested person may have on their person at the time of arrest. If it has nothing to do with the commission of the crime, it can usually be returned at the owner’s request, provided they display identification and an invoice receipt. Items that are commonly kept for safekeeping include jewelry and clothing that the person was wearing during the arrest.
Thus, whether or not you can retrieve your property after the arrest depends largely on the purpose that the property will be used for. The more closely the property is related to the criminal offense, the more difficult it will be to obtain before the trial is over. If the property is not related to the charges, it can probably be returned promptly.
Once an arrest has been made, confiscated property is usually taken to the police department where it will be filed and catalogued by a clerk. The clerk will then issue a “property voucher” to the owner of the confiscated items. The property voucher is like a receipt and will allow the person to retrieve their property if it lawful to do so. Sometimes property vouchers will state the reason why the property has been confiscated.
In general you will need to present the clerk with valid identification and the corresponding property voucher in order to retrieve your property. You might also want to provide additional information, such any identifying marks on the property (i.e., serial numbers), the type, quantity, and value of the items, and a description or a photograph of the item.
If the property is being held as evidence, for investigation purposes, or for safekeeping, you may need a letter from the District Attorney or from an Investigative Officer in order to have the property released. Sometimes the judge will allow you to retrieve your property if a substitute such as a photograph or a copy of a document can be used as evidence instead of the actual property.
Property that was confiscated because it was contraband may NOT be returned unless the defendant can prove that they were in lawful possession of the item.
Finally, in order to retrieve property that is subject to a forfeiture action, the defendant is typically required to attend a formal hearing under oath regarding the property.
You should be aware that the laws governing the recovery of property after arrest may vary from state to state. There may be different deadlines for when you may request for your property back. You should inquire with a lawyer if you have questions about your state’s policies on confiscated property.
If you have had property confiscated as a result of an arrest, you may be entitled to get it back under the circumstances pointed out above. You may wish to consult with an intellectual property lawyer regarding your property, especially if there is a possibility that it will be used as evidence in court. It will not be held against you if you request that your property be returned after an arrest.