First, thanks for allowing those of us not well versed in "lawyering" to raise questions and actually get answers from those better equipped.
This question pertains to the 4th Amendment, generally. Search and seizure. But the question goes beyond the 4th Amendment protections.
The basic question is: What procedure must be exercised to effect the return of seized property when no arrest was made, no charges brought and the searching agency declared, in writing, that the investigation is closed and where the allegations leading to the search warrant and subsequent seizure are "not sustained"?
Party is (was) employed by a CA state law enforcement agency. Internal Affairs (not the local police) sought and secured a search warrant of employee's residence. The basis of the request for the warrant is alleged trafficking of illegal contraband into a penal institution: i.e., drugs. The warrant document specifies the following that may be searched and seized:
"Computer, computer disks, any correspondence between [employee] and any inmate and or parolee of the state of California. Telephone books, address books, telephone billing records, mailing lists, letters and/or envelopes bearing a return address for an inmate incarcerated in a California penal facility, pay sheets or any record tracking the receipt of money for drug trafficking, to and from inmates and or parolees."
During the 6 hour search, it is said that Internal Affairs personnel searched and seized items such as prescription and common over-the-counter medication, a hand gun, (clean and legally owned by party), two computer systems, misc computer hardware, dozens of disks, original computer program CDs, and numerous misc items having no apparent connection to the expressed purpose of the warrant. One of the computers was a non operating 386 machine stored in her garage. Apparently, photocopies of "documents" were taken in lieu of seizing the originals.
The party was subjected to close interrogation and not permitted inside the premises during the 6-hour search and seizure procedure. No arrest was made although that was threatened.
That event occurred 5 months ago. Three months ago, Party received an official notice from Internal Affairs declaring the investigation closed. Party has twice since requested (in writing) the return of property seized but was told (in writing) "..... it is being held during forensic investigative procedures." The party has not otherwise been approached by anyone, no communication from any law enforcement agency, has not been arrested nor charged with a crime. The party was, prior to and at the time of the search and seizure, in the process of retiring from civil service and has since officially retired with no "strings attached" receiving full retirement benefits. She is 65 years old this month, widowed with no other source of income or resources.
Party declares that there is no evidence of any such wrong doing [my note: whether it actually happened or not.] contained in the items specified and seized in the search warrant and/or items seized that were not specified in the search warrant.
Since "nothing has come of it since" she asks, ".....how can I get my property returned?" Is there a statute of limitations relative to holding seized property without some agency having filed a formal complaint against the party? Items that could not possibly have contained the information Internal Affairs sought, such as "in" the gun, medication and other non data-bearing property that was seized, should have been returned to the party as not pertinent to the "investigation". She further asks, ".... is there something I can file with the court to force the return of my property?" [before it gets lost, stolen, destroyed, damaged or auctioned off as unclaimed property]
I have searched the CA penal code and other resources for answers or guidance to this issue but have thus far not found anything. I have not researched case law since I am not really certain where to start looking relative to the "issue" at hand: the return of personal property seized during an investigation that yielded zero results.