Property held by police for evidence can take longer to get back than items kept in safekeeping in the event of an arrest, even if the property wasn't illegal to have or used inappropriately. In addition, property held as evidence that cannot be satisfactorily represented as a photograph in court may stay in evidence until all legal proceedings are exhausted, including appeals. In short, there is no certain "return date" for seized property. However, there are some things you can do to get your property back in a timely manner.
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Things you need
- Property seizure receipt or voucher
Be aware that you are entitled to receive a receipt or voucher for any property taken as evidence. Examine the receipt promptly to be sure it accurately and completely describes the items taken from your possession. You will need this receipt to claim ownership of your property later.
Call the police department that is holding the property to arrange for its release. Note that this only applies in cases where there are no charges and no further investigation pending. Otherwise, proceed to the next step.
Submit a written letter requesting a release of your property to the assistant district attorney assigned to your case, if applicable. You can do this yourself, or you can ask an attorney to draft the letter for you. Time limitations vary between jurisdictions but, in most cases, the assistant district attorney must respond in writing to your request within 10 days. If your request is denied, the assistant district attorney must provide you with a written explanation.
Ask for a review of your property release request by a supervising district attorney, if it is denied. Property release requests are typically denied due to an ongoing investigation or pending the completion of a criminal proceeding. However, it is sometimes possible to obtain an early release of property held in evidence, especially if your case is being considered for an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACD).
Petition the court for the return of your property, or hire an attorney to do it for you. A judge can override the decision of the district attorney's office regarding the release of property held in evidence. However, be prepared for a counterargument that doing so would jeopardise the prosecution's case.
Produce the receipt for your property at the conclusion of your case to the appropriate police department. You will typically be required to sign a release stating that the property has been returned to you in good condition. Make sure it is before signing.
Tips and warnings
- If you are the victim of a crime and your property has been taken as evidence, you can follow the same steps outlined above. In addition, you may wish to contact your local Victim/Witness Assistance Program for further assistance (See Resources).
- If the property was deemed illegal to possess in the first place, or was used to commit a crime, it will not be returned to you. Even if neither condition applies, the police may still justify retaining the property indefinitely to best serve public interest or safety.
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