How Do I Get Back Property Confiscated in a Criminal Case?

If you are arrested in the Charlotte, Lake Norman area and later released, there is a good chance that the belongings you had with you at arrest, or other items confiscated as potential evidence, are still in lockup. Besides obtaining a zealous criminal defense attorney if you end up being charged with a crime, one of the most pressing issues for many individuals in this circumstance is how to get that property back. Will you ever see those items again? The frustrating answer is, it depends.

There are four (4) reasons that law enforcement can confiscate property: safekeeping, evidence, contraband, and forfeiture. Whether and how you will be able to get your property back depends on which of these four reasons the property was seized.

If law enforcement confiscated your personal effects, car, or money when you were arrested, they must give you a voucher. This voucher acts as your receipt, so it is important not to lose it. Oftentimes prisoners will not be given vouchers because they are transported to a central booking facility before the papers are prepared. If this happens, you can go in person to the police precinct where you were arrested after you are released. The property officer will ask for the date of your arrest, your arrest number, and the name of the officer who arrested you. Your attorney should have this information if you do not.

You are entitled to a correct and complete property voucher. If items are missing or incorrect on the voucher, you can refuse to sign until it is fixed. Signing an incomplete voucher can forfeit your right to the items that are missing, so it is very important to let your attorney know if you signed an incomplete or incorrect voucher. The voucher should indicate for which purpose the property is being held.

  1. Safekeeping. If you had valuables such as cash, jewelry, legally prescribed medications, or furs on your person when you were arrested, the police will often take these items and hold them until you are released in order to keep them from being stolen. Police also often impound a prisoner's car while they are in custody in order to keep it safe.
    • If you did not receive a voucher for the personal effects police confiscated from you at time of arrest, you may go to the police precinct where you were arrested as described above. With the correct voucher and government-issued identification you should be able to get your belongings held for safekeeping returned to you.
  2. Evidence. District attorneys (prosecutors for the state) have the discretion to temporarily hold property that they suspect was used in the commission of a crime, or is the product of a crime. For example, if the district attorney believes your coat will identify you as the person who committed a robbery, they can hold that coat as evidence. If you are arrested for selling illegal drugs, the D.A. can confiscate any large sums of cash you were carrying as evidence. They can do this even if the property is rightfully yours and was never used illegally. Law enforcement can also seize property they suspect is evidence of a crime even if you have not been arrested, charged or convicted. Your attorney may sometimes be able to reclaim this property for you depending on the circumstances, but most often "arrest evidence" will be held until a criminal case is completely over, including appeals.
    • The exact rules and procedure can vary depending on the county in which you are located, but it typically the county's police department will send you a letter informing you that your property is ready to be reclaimed. You may take this letter and a government-issued photo identification to the police department's Property and Evidence Division to reclaim your belongings. In Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, the Property and Evidence Division of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is located at 601 East Trade Street in Charlotte. If you never received a letter, you may follow up with law enforcement at this location, but property will not be released until the investigator on you case has given the approval to do so.
      1. Whenever a firearm is turned in to the police, the assigned investigator or the court must authorize its release regardless of whether or not the firearm was legally acquired or possessed. In addition, if the firearm was seized as evidence in a criminal case, the District Attorney's office must authorize its release. This process usually takes between four (4) and eight (8) weeks.
  3. Contraband. This refers to property that is confiscated because it is a crime to possess it. Examples of contraband include unlicensed handguns, switchblade knives, illegal drugs, counterfeit money, forged papers, and fake credit cards. If you have been charged with possessing contraband, the items will be held as evidence until your court case has concluded, at which point it may be destroyed. Your attorney will be made aware of any alleged contraband items and will have the opportunity to inspect them before you go to trial. Your attorney may argue that the items were illegally searched for or seized, or that your possession of those items was lawful.
  4. Forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture is a process that has been around since the 1970s that enables the government to seize cash and property it suspects was used in or acquired from criminal activity. It allows law enforcement and prosecutors to seize property without necessarily charging or arresting anyone with a crime, and then requires the owner to prove in civil court that he or she obtained and used the property legally. If the owner loses their forfeiture case in civil court, law enforcement may permanently keep or sell the property. Items that have been seized via forfeiture include money that was intended to be exchanged for drugs, tools used to break into a building, and a car driven by a drunk, reckless or unlicensed driver.

If you or a loved one has been arrested, charged with a crime or had property confiscated by law enforcement, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a consultation with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys. We have offices in Uptown Charlotte, Lake Norman and now Monroe to give you convenient options to be of service to you. To schedule your consultation please call 704-370-2828 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.