How can you get back your property from the police?

Posted on 7th December 2020

You are always entitled to get your property back so long as it is not evidence in an active investigation or an exhibit in a trial or an illegal material.

Police Powers

After you are arrested or involved in an active police investigation, you may have your property confiscated and held by the police on your behalf. During criminal investigations the police are given a range of powers to seize property they judge as relevant to your investigation. These powers are granted under Section 19 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

S19 PACE Act 1984 – General power of seizure

  1. The powers conferred by subsections (2), (3) and (4) below are exercisable by a constable who is lawfully on any premises.
  2. The constable may seize anything which is on the premises if he has reasonable grounds for believing –
    (a)that it has been obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence; and
    (b)that it is necessary to seize it in order to prevent it being concealed, lost, damaged, altered or destroyed.
  3. The constable may seize anything which is on the premises if he has reasonable grounds for believing –
    (a)that it is evidence in relation to an offence which he is investigating or any other offence; and
    (b)that it is necessary to seize it in order to prevent the evidence being concealed, lost, altered or destroyed.
  4. The constable may require any information which is contained in a computer and is accessible from the premises to be produced in a form in which it can be taken away and in which it is visible and legible if he has reasonable grounds for believing –
    (a)that :-
    (i)it is evidence in relation to an offence which he is investigating or any other offence; or
    (ii)it has been obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence; and
    (b)that it is necessary to do so in order to prevent it being concealed, lost, tampered with or destroyed.
  5. The powers conferred by this section are in addition to any power otherwise conferred.
  6. No power of seizure conferred on a constable under any enactment (including an enactment contained in an Act passed after this Act) is to be taken to authorise the seizure of an item which the constable exercising the power has reasonable grounds for believing to be subject to legal privilege.

In layman’s terms, if the officer believes that something is relevant to the investigation, he has a duty to seize it.

Once you are arrested it is very important that you make note of the following:

  • Name of the officer in charge of your case (OIC)
  • The police station you were taken to
  • Your custody record number (CRN)
  • The date you were arrested and the property that was taken from you.

Having a record of the above will make it easier for you to secure the release of your property.

There are two types of property that can be taken from you when you are arrested:

  1. The property in your immediate possession for example personal items such as your lighter, wallet or purse, etc. If the police find the property holds no evidential value to your case it will be returned to you as and when you leave the police station. No illegal substances can be returned to you.
  2. Property which can be deemed as evidence such as computers, phones, tablets or any other electronic device that need to be analysed, items of clothing or objects such as knives or something which could be seen as a weapon or item to assist in committing an offence. Also, large amounts of money found in your possession may be subject to an investigation. There is separate legislation that deals with the seizure of cash, which is a complex and separate issue.

When you can get your property back:

  • The property cannot be returned to you until the officer in charge of the case has authorised it for release.
  • The police can keep relevant property until a case has been resolved and, in some cases, they can keep it after conviction (in case of a hearing relating to the confiscation of any illegal assets, or a possible appeal in some circumstances).
  • The police will hold your property until all relevant matters have been dealt with. Once the letter of authorisation has been sent to you the general procedure is for them to wait 28 days for you to collect your property or for a response either by telephone or in writing.

You can either attempt to contact the OIC who has released your property or contact 101 who will then contact the officer in your case to see whether your property can be released.

This can be done regardless of if you are in custody as your property (if released) can be collected by a person who has your written consent. You can write a letter to the station addressed to the officer expressing your consent for that said person to collect your property. Additionally, you will need to write a letter to the person collecting the property, giving them permission, instructing them to take both the letter and a form of ID to the police station.

If you find yourself having any issues with this process and in need of specialist legal advice call our highly experienced Criminal Defence solicitors on 0808 231 6369 who will be able to assist. Alternatively, you can request a call back online. 

Unfortunately we aren’t able to offer legal aid, but we are able to advise you on our fees.

Co-author of this blog is Christelle Chungong, an Assistant Paralegal in the criminal defence team.

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