Was your personal property seized by the Oxnard Police Department, the Ventura Police Department, or another police department in California?  If so, you may be able to get the seized property back.  However, in order to do so effectively, you must know if your property was seized for (1) contraband, (2) forfeiture, (3) evidence, and/or (4) safekeeping.  Our Ventura criminal defense lawyers examine the differences between each of these situations, and explain how these differences will affect your ability to recover seized personal property.

Can You Get Your Property Back if it is Being Used as Evidence in a Criminal Case?

If your property may be needed by the prosecutor in a criminal case, it will be considered evidence, and most likely will not be released to you until the case is resolved.  For example, if the police seize your cell phone and believe it contains phone records that are related to your case, the prosecutor could hold that property until the case is over.

Once your case is resolved, you can get your property back by asking your attorney to file a motion for return of your property in the court.  Once the motion is filed and served on the prosecutor, your attorney will ask the judge to order the police to return your property to you.

As you can see, this is a multi-step process that involves contacting multiple parties, so it is wise to have an experienced criminal lawyer handle the process for you, rather than attempting it yourself.  If you accidentally make a small error, you could jeopardize your ability to promptly recover your own property.

But what if, instead of being used as evidence, your property is considered contraband, or is being held for safekeeping?  Each of these scenarios brings up different considerations, which are explained below.


Contraband property includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Counterfeit items, such as currency
  • Drugs that are not prescribed to you
  • Switchblade knives
  • Unlicensed guns
  • Other items that are illegal to possess

Be advised that if your seized property is contraband, it will be destroyed and you will not be able to get it back.


In certain situations – usually arising when a vehicle is seized and towed following an arrest – the police will seize your property, inventory it, and then guard it to prevent it from being lost or stolen.  If no charges are issued against you, and the items are not needed as evidence, then the police usually will return to the property to you upon your release from the police station.

How Does Civil Asset Forfeiture Work in California?

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Forfeiture is arguably the most complex scenario surrounding the seizure of personal property, so we have set aside a section solely to discuss this issue.

The police often seize property that is believed to be used for, or a result of, a crime for which you have been arrested.  If the property is valuable, the prosecutor involved in your criminal case may initiate a civil action against you, asking for the property to be forfeited to the government.  Examples of property subject to forfeiture include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Cell phones and smartphones involved in the sale of illegal drugs
  • Computer equipment used to commit forgery
  • Houses
  • Land
  • Money
  • Vehicles
  • Weapons, including weapons involved in assaults

If you have been charged with assault in California, you should contact a Ventura assault defense lawyer as soon as possible.  Likewise, you should consult with a Ventura drug crimes attorney if your cell phone was seized in relation to the alleged sale or possession of controlled substances, such as meth, LSD, or heroin.

The prosecutor is required to provide you with notice of forfeiture.  In general, the notice will indicate that you have 30 days to file a claim objecting to the forfeiture, or you may automatically lose your property.  After you file your claim at court and serve the prosecutor with a copy of your claim, the court will set a civil trial within 30 days.

In general, the prosecutor needs to prove that your property:

  1. Was used for, or a result of, a crime.
  2. Is subject to forfeiture.
  3. If there is more than one owner, all the property owners knew that the property was used for, or was a result of, a crime.

If you lose at your forfeiture trial, then you lose your property.  If you win at your forfeiture trial, then the court will order the police to return your property to you.

Have You Been Charged with a Crime in California? Contact Our Ventura Defense Lawyers

Dealing with law enforcement can be intimidating, complicated, and extremely stressful, especially when you are not familiar with police procedures or the California laws that govern property seizures by police.  If you or one of your family members has been charged with a crime, or believes that your Constitutional rights have been violated, you are strongly advised to speak to an experienced Ventura County criminal attorney about your legal situation.

The California defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC handle felony and misdemeanor criminal matters throughout Ventura County and Santa Barbara County.  To set up a free legal consultation, please do not hesitate to call our law offices as soon as possible at (805) 643-5555.  We are here to help uphold your rights, answer your legal questions, and provide assistance if you or a loved one has been arrested or accused of committing a crime.