One aspect of being charged with a crime that many people may not consider until it happens to them is what will become of your personal belongings seized as evidence in the investigation. In fact, many people who have never actually been charged with a crime have their personal items taken from them under a process known as “civil forfeiture.” In many cases, the police are able to hold these items for years or even keep them permanently. However, there are ways you can fight back and reclaim your possessions. Below, our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers at Overson Law, PLLC explain your rights when it comes to reclaiming your possessions that the police have seized as evidence or under civil forfeiture laws.
Items Taken Into Custody During the Salt Lake City Booking Process
Anytime that you are arrested and taken into custody in Salt Lake City, the police will take all the belongings you have on your person at the time of your arrest and inventory them. The items will be held for safekeeping until you are released from custody. Typically, the police should return all of these belongings held for safekeeping as soon as you are let out of jail, whether with a court date for your charges or without any charges being filed against you.
However, the police may keep any belongings that they believe may be used as evidence in the case against you, as well as anything illegal they find. For example, if they find a joint in your pocket, they can keep the joint and either use it as evidence in a possession of marijuana case or destroy it. If the police try to keep your items even though they are not illegal and are not being held for evidentiary purposes, experienced Utah criminal defense attorneys like those at Overson Law, PLLC will know how to work with the police to get your property back and, if necessary, can file a motion in court for the return of your possessions.
Civil Asset Forfeiture in Salt Lake City
Civil asset forfeiture is a practice that has come under increased scrutiny in recent years. When you are pulled over or investigated for a crime, police officers may seize your cash or property if they suspect it is being used as part of a criminal scheme. For example, if you are pulled over for speeding but the police find hundreds of thousands of dollars in your car and believe it to have been gained from selling or distributing illegal drugs, they can seize that money.
The catch here is that they can do this even if you are not ultimately charged with any crime. You then must fight an entirely separate case in civil court where the police must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the assets seized were used in furtherance of a crime. This clear and convincing evidence threshold is much less that the beyond a reasonable doubt standard used in prosecuting criminal cases. Even if the criminal case against you is dropped or charges are never even filed, the police can still proceed with a civil forfeiture case against your assets.
In recent years, the Utah legislature has passed a series of laws aimed at curtailing the use of civil asset forfeiture by police in the state, particularly in cases where no crime is ever ultimately charged. However, police still use this tactic a great deal, especially since it benefits them as any money or other assets they seize can be funneled right back into the police department’s coffers. Oftentimes they merely hope that the individual whose items were seized won’t get an attorney to challenge their actions.
At Overson Law, PLLC, our skilled West Valley City criminal defense attorneys will fight to get your property back. We will leave no stone unturned in working to get an unjust seizure of your assets ruled illegal and to have your property returned to you, its rightful owner.
Items Held as Evidence in Salt Lake City
As briefly discussed earlier, if the police believe that one of your possessions either contains evidence of a crime or itself can be used as evidence of a crime, they are permitted to keep that item in police possession until such time as the underlying criminal case is resolved. This means that, for complicated cases such as murder investigations or large drug rings, your possessions can be held for months or even years by the police completely legally.
You can fight these items being held by filing a motion for a hearing on whether the return of your property would compromise the evidence in any way. While a judge is likely going to allow the police to keep custody of items that have DNA or physical evidence on them, a skilled Salt Lake City search and seizure defense lawyer may be able to get them to return something like a cell phone, where they have already removed the data they are planning to use as evidence and no longer need the physical object. However, the best way to ensure you get your belongings back is to hire an attorney to fight the charges against you and prove your innocence.
Call Our Salt Lake City Criminal Attorney Today About Recovering Seized Items
Police officers have wide latitude to seize evidence that they suspect may be involved in a crime. However, there are laws on the books preventing them from holding these items forever or keeping them permanently even when you haven’t been charged with a crime. Because laws regarding civil asset forfeiture and the return of your rightful property are complex and ever-changing, it is vital that you have an experienced Riverton City criminal defense attorney on your side arguing your case. Our attorneys have a successful track record in Salt Lake City and across Utah at getting our clients’ property back when the police are refusing to release it. For a free consultation, call us today at (801) 758-2287.