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April 06, 2016

Return of Seized Property in Criminal Cases

CaseState of Tennessee v. Ray Rowland

Issue:  How should a defendant reclaim property that may be improperly seized?

Facts:  Defendant was arrested after shooting a firearm towards someone. Police seized several firearms from his house. Defendant pled guilty, and then later filed a Rule 41(g) motion for return of property in criminal court. The criminal court denied the motion, ruling that the court lacked jurisdiction since the Defendant never filed a Rule 12(b) suppression motion, and that the proper remedy was a replevin action in chancery court.

Appellate Decision:  The intermediate court reversed and held that all seized items unconnected to the offense should be returned. The court cited prior decisions holding that the retention of even property seized pursuant to a lawful search (which is not contraband or linked to the underlying offense) constitutes an unlawful seizure, such that Rule 41(g) provides a remedy for relief.

Review Granted:  March 23, 2016.

Prediction: Ben thinks the Supreme Court will reverse. Although the intermediate court has a sound equitable argument that the “continued retention” of the property can later constitute an illegal seizure, the plain terms of Rule 41(g) limit relief to property unlawfully seized upon collection. However, Ben thinks the court of conviction is the most logical place to adjudicate property seized in connection with a criminal case, so it may be wise to modify the rule. David thinks the Supreme Court will reverse but on a different basis: that the guns were sufficiently connected to the crime.