How Long Can Utah Police Hold Evidence?
When you are approached by police officers or charged with a crime, the first thing you are certainly going to focus on is your own safety and liberty. However, it is also important to think about what might occur to any property of yours that is seized by the officers during your arrest or even a situation that does not lead to an arrest. Through a process known as civil asset forfeiture, police in Utah are sometimes permitted to keep your possessions even if you are never charged with or convicted of a related crime. In this article, our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC will explain how and when you have the right to get back your property that the police have seized, and how we can help you fight back against unjust seizures.
Civil Asset Forfeiture by Police in Utah
Civil asset forfeiture is a complex area of the law that has come under a lot of fire throughout the country in recent years. Under Utah’s civil asset forfeiture laws, the police are able to seize anything that they believe may have been used as part of a crime. For example, if your brother borrows your car and is pulled over with a large amount of money inside the vehicle, the police can seize both the money and your vehicle if they believe it was being used for drug crimes, like selling or buying drugs. This can occur even if your brother is never charged with a crime.
A civil forfeiture case is actually a case against the asset itself, rather than against an individual. The case takes place in civil court entirely separately from any criminal case that may or may not occur. Unlike in criminal court, where the standard for conviction is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecutor in a civil forfeiture action is only required to prove that the assets were involved in a crime by clear and convincing evidence. This lower standard of proof makes it easier for assets to be seized even when no one is convicted of the underlying crime. The police are further incentivized in the use of this practice because any civilly forfeited assets can be sold, and the profits go straight to the police department who seized them.
In recent years Utah has enacted a series of reforms to protect innocent people from having their property seized under civil forfeiture laws. In particular, the law now strives to prevent situations like the one in the example above, where someone not even thought to be involved in criminal activity can have their assets, such as a vehicle, taken from them permanently because someone else may have used it in the commission of a crime.
Civil asset forfeiture laws are complex and the best thing you can do to work to get your property returned is to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney like those on the team at Overson Law, PLLC. Our lawyers will aggressively fight against any unjust seizure of your assets, especially without a criminal conviction backing it up.
Items Taken into Custody During the Utah Booking Process
As a standard part of the booking process after you are arrested and taken into custody, the police in Utah will take all of the items you have on your person, such as a wallet or purse, inventory them, and hold on to them for safekeeping until you are released. Typically, these items should be returned to you once you are let out of police custody. However, the police are permitted to hold on to these items if there is reason to believe that they may be needed to use in a future court case as evidence of a crime. The police are also not required to return anything that it was illegal to posses in the first place. For example, if you have a baggie of cocaine on you when you are arrested, you are not going to get that back whether or not you are convicted of a crime.
Sometimes the police will try to keep non-evidentiary items taken from you during booking without any justification. An experienced search and seizure attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC will know how to work with the police to get your possessions back and to file a motion with the court for their return if the police refuse to cooperate.
Items Held as Evidence in Utah
Unfortunately, if the police have reason to believe one of your possessions either is evidence of a crime or contains such evidence, they are permitted to keep that item in their custody for as long as it takes for the underlying criminal case to be resolved. This means that there is no real limit to the time Utah police can hold evidence. If the case drags on for years, the police will be able to keep your possessions for all of that time.
Our attorneys may be able to fight to get your items released to you by arguing to the court that the police no longer need them to prove their case. For example, if you were caught driving drunk in your car, your attorney can argue that there is no need for the police to keep the actual car for the entirety of your case when the evidence is based on breath and blood tests and not the vehicle itself. However, the best way to ensure the return of your property is to hire criminal defense lawyer to fight your case and prove that you are innocent.
Call Our Utah Criminal Defense Lawyers About Seized Possessions
While police have the power to hold evidence related to a pending criminal charge indefinitely, there are limits to their ability to hold your possessions when no underlying criminal charges have been filed against you. At Overson Law, PLLC, our criminal defense lawyers have years of experience fighting against improper and illegal seizures of our clients’ property. We will work tirelessly to bring your matter to a successful conclusion and get your property back in your hands. Call our firm today at (801) 758-2287 for a free, confidential consultation.