Can the Police Confiscate My Computer?Published: Jun 15, 2020 in Child Sex Crimes, Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes
There are two reasons for law enforcement to confiscate your computer: collection of evidence, or civil asset forfeiture. If the police are investigating you for fraud, child pornography, or any crime where evidence might be found on your computer, the police may seize your computer.
But remember that a warrant is almost always required to do so.
If you’re facing criminal charges in Houston and a computer or other electrnc device is being used as evidence, contact a criminal defense lawyer from The Law Offices of Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767 to schedule a free and confidential case consultation.
Civil Asset Forfeiture
While a warrant is required to seize your property in a criminal case, when it comes to civil asset forfeiture, all the police need is reasonable cause to believe the computer was used in a crime or purchased with the proceeds of criminal activity. For example, if the police bust you for selling drugs, they may confiscate your car, cash, phone, jewelry, and personal computer on the presumption that you obtained these items with drug proceeds.
Can I Get my Computer Back?
Once a criminal case is over, the prosecutor no longer needs it as evidence. Sometimes, essential items may be stored if it might be connected to other crimes, or if a retrial or appeal is likely.
In general, the prosecutor has three options when the case is over:
- Return the evidence to its owner
- Destroy the evidence
- Forfeit it to law enforcement
In some cases, evidence might be returned to you before the case is over if the prosecutor decides it isn’t useful. So if the police seize your computer and find no illegal files, they may give it to you regardless of the case outcome.
What if Illegal Items are Found
It becomes a lot harder to get your property back if evidence of a crime is found. In addition, your case gets harder to defend.
In Harris County, the police typically look for the following on your computer:
- Illegal Gambling Information
- Criminal Instruments
- Obscene Materials
- Child Pornography
- Dog Fighting Equipment & Records
- Illicit Scanning Devices
What Happens if I’m Convicted?
Article 18.18 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure mandates that after conviction, all such evidence must be destroyed or forfeited to law enforcement.
If the police find illegal materials or evidence of illegal activity on your computer after seizing it, it is very unlikely you will ever see it again if you are convicted. Even if you acquitted, the state’s forfeiture laws make it hard to get confiscated property back.
How Can I Get Property Back?
The police can take possession of any property they believe to be used in connection with a crime or purchased with illicit money. In practice, this means the police generally take anything of value they find when they make an arrest.
Law enforcement officials often claim this is to take resources away from criminals, but they also do it so they can sell the items at police auctions. They do this because they know it is very difficult for owners to get their property back, even if no charges are filed.
To get your property back in Houston, you need to show that it was neither an instrument of crime nor purchased with the proceeds of criminal activity. This is the opposite of the presumption of innocence afforded to you during a criminal trial. And during the court proceeding, you will have to cover all of the legal costs because you have no right to a court-appointed attorney.
Many property owners simply can’t afford to go through the process of getting their confiscated property back, so the state wins by default.
A Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
If you’ve been charged with a crime or had your computer seized in an investigation, as a former prosecutor Ned Barnett knows how the system works. He can help you get your property back, whether it’s been used as evidence or forfeited to the state.