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Finding Legal Help

You are not required to hire an attorney, but legal matters can be complicated. Consider talking to an attorney to go over your options. See the Finding Legal Help page for information about free and low cost ways to get legal help. 

Como encontrar ayuda legal

Usted no está obligado a contratar un abogado, pero los asuntos legales pueden ser complicados. Considere la posibilidad de hablar con un abogado para hablar de sus opciones. Para información sobre cómo obtener ayuda legal vea nuestra página Como encontrar ayuda legal.

Property Seized by Law Enforcement

This page explains your rights when your property is taken or seized by law enforcement. Seized property is used as evidence to investigate whether someone committed a crime. Law enforcement can seize your property when arresting someone for a crime or enforcing a judgment. When your property is seized:

  • Law enforcement must give you a receipt for the seized property that includes contact information for the agency that seized the property.
  • Law enforcement must return the property to you within 75 days, unless one of the following is filed:
    • a criminal case involving the seized property. If a criminal case is filed, the agency will hold your property until all criminal proceedings and related cases are final. As part of the criminal case, the prosecution could ask that you lose your right to the property. This is called forfeiture. Read the section on criminal forfeiture for more information.
      Utah Code 24-2-106
    • a petition to transfer the property to another agency. Read what to do if you receive a Notice or a Petition regarding a Request to Release Property.
    • proceedings to cancel your rights to the property. You should receive either a Notice of Intent to Seek Forfeiture and then a Complaint for Civil Asset Forfeiture.
    • a request for restraining order to delay the release of the property. The prosecutor can ask for an extension of the 75-day deadline, asking for up to 21 more days. They must give the court a good reason as to why they need to extend the deadline.
    Utah Code 24-4-103.5.
  • You can ask for your property to be returned before the 75-day deadline. Read about your options to ask for the return of your seized property.
  • The seizing agency must use reasonable care when storing your property. You can sue the agency if they negligently destroy, damage, or lose the property. Utah Code 24-4-111.
  • The seizing agency may not charge you a fee or costs for holding the property if a judgment is entered in your favor or a forfeiture proceeding against you is voluntarily dismissed. Utah Code 24-4-112.

Criminal Forfeiture

If a criminal case is filed against a defendant, your rights depend on whether you are the criminal defendant or not.

If you are the criminal defendant (click to expand)

A prosecuting attorney can ask that you lose your rights to seized property as part of a criminal case. The property will be forfeited in the criminal case if the prosecuting attorney establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that you either:

  • Committed the offense involving the property, or
  • Knew of the offense involving the property and allowed the property to be used in furtherance of the offense, or
  • Acquired the property at the time of the offense involving the property, or
  • There is no likely source for the purchase or acquisition of the property other than the commission of the offense involving the property.

The court must also find that the forfeiture is proportionate. See the section on Proportionality

If the property is forfeited all of your rights to the property end. The property may be sold and you, or someone acting on your behalf, will not be eligible to buy the property.

You can ask the court to delay or stay the sale or disposition of the property if there is an appeal pending in your criminal case involving the property. You must show that proceeding with the sale or disposition of the property may result in irreparable injury, harm, or loss - harm that cannot be undone. See our page on Motions to Delay for more information.

The property will be returned to you if you are acquitted. If the property has been disposed of then you will be given money for the value of the property.

If the property will be forfeited, the prosecuting attorney must provide notice of intent to dispose of the property. Notice will be published in two consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the county where the property was seized and on Utah's Public Legal Notice Website. The prosecuting attorney must also send written notice to any claimants, other than the defendants, who have an interest in the property.

If you are not the criminal defendant (click to expand)

If you are not the criminal defendant in the criminal case involving the property you can file a petition with the court, asking for a determination of who has the right to the seized property. Your petition must be filed within 30 days after the notice is published. Your petition must:

  • Be in writing
  • Explain the nature and extent of your right, title, or interest in the property and include facts supporting your request
  • Explain why you have a right to the property

The court will expedite trials or hearings under your petition. Discovery may be conducted and you or the prosecutor can ask for a jury trial. If you win your case the court could order the other side to pay your court costs and attorney fees. Utah Code 24-4-110.

Utah Code 24-2-105.

If you receive a Notice or a Petition regarding a Request to Release Property

A prosecuting attorney must send a Notice or a Petition regarding a Request to Release Property to anyone who has a claim to the property. The notice tells you that the prosecuting attorney has asked to transfer the property to another state or to the federal government. If the property is transferred, you will no longer have rights to have the property returned to you under Utah law.

When you receive the notice you have 10 days from the date the notice was mailed to you to file an objection to transfer the property. We don't have a form for that, but you can try filing an answer to the petition with the court. See our page on Answering a Complaint or Petition for more information. You must also send a copy of your answer to the prosecuting attorney. See our page on Serving Papers for more information.

When you file your answer the court will schedule a hearing. At the hearing the court will consider evidence regarding whether the property must be transferred to the other agency, including any hardship related to the transfer.

Utah Code 24-2-105.

If you receive a Notice of Intent to Seek Forfeiture

A Notice of Intent to Seek Forfeiture tells you that the agency has asked for the property to be forfeited, meaning it will become the property of the state and you will no longer have rights to it. The agency holding the seized property will sends the notice to you, any interest holders, and any individual or entity who asserts a claim to any property seized for forfeiture. The agency holding the seized property must search public records for the names and addresses of those holding an interest in the property.

The property involved in the notice may not be sold or otherwise transferred until a court issues a final order to dismiss a forfeiture action or orders the property to be forfeited. The agency is required to send the Notice of Intent to Seek Forfeiture no later than 45 days after the property is seized.

Utah Code 24-4-103.

The prosecuting attorney must review the notice and, within 75 days of when the property is seized, decline or accept the agency's written request for the prosecuting attorney to start a case for forfeiture. What happens next depends on what the prosecuting attorney does. If the prosecuting attorney:

  • Starts a criminal case by filing an indictment or information, the property could be held as evidence.
  • Files a complaint for civil asset forfeiture, you will be served with the complaint.
  • Files a petition to transfer the property to another agency, you will be served with the petition.
  • Files a petition to extend the deadline, they will have 21 more days to make a decision about what to do with the property.

Utah Code 24-4-103.5.

If you receive a Complaint for Civil Asset Forfeiture

A complaint for civil asset forfeiture asks the court to terminate any legal claim or right you have to the seized property. You have 30 days to file an answer to the petition with the court. See our page on Answering a Complaint or Petition for more information. You must also send a copy of your answer to the prosecuting attorney. See our page on Serving Papers for more information.

After you file an answer, what happens next depends on the value of the property:

  • If the property is valued at less than $10,000, the property must be returned to you if the prosecuting attorney has not filed a criminal case for the offense involving the property within 60 days of when the prosecuting attorney served the complaint or the prosecuting attorney has not asked the court for an extension.
  • If the property is valued at more than $10,000, the case can involve discovery and a trial if necessary.

At a trial, your property will be forfeited if the prosecuting attorney can show by clear and convincing evidence that you:

  • committed the offense involving the property or
  • knew of the offense subjecting the property to forfeiture and allowed the property to be used in furtherance of the offense or
  • acquired the property at the time of the offense involving the property or
  • there is no likely source for the purchase or acquisition of the property other than the commission of the offense involving the property.

The court must also find that the forfeiture is proportionate. See the section on Proportionality

If you are acquitted of the offense involving the property then the property will be returned to you. If the property has been disposed of then you will be given money for the value of the property.

The civil forfeiture action can be transferred to a criminal forfeiture action at any time after a prosecuting attorney files a criminal case for an offense involving the property.

Utah Code 24-4-104

Asking for the release of the property due to hardship

You can ask the court to release the property to you and skip a trial if you can show a hardship. You can request this release by filing a motion. We do not have forms for this, but you can use our generic motion forms, available on our Motions page. You would file your motion with the court and send copies to the other parties in the case. See our page on Serving Papers for more information.

To show a hardship you must show the court that:

  • You had a possessory interest in the property at the time of seizure, and
  • Continued possession by the agency pending a forfeiture proceeding will cause substantial hardship to you, including:
    • Preventing your legitimate business to function
    • Preventing you from working
    • Preventing any child from attending school
    • Preventing or hindering an individual from receiving necessary medical care
    • Preventing the care of a dependent child or adult who is elderly or disabled
    • Leaving an individual homeless OR
    • Any other condition that the court determines is a substantial hardship, and
  • The hardship from continued possession of the property by the agency outweighs the risk that the property will be destroyed, damaged, lost, concealed, or transferred if the property is returned to the claimant during the pendency of the proceeding, and
  • The property is not contraband - anything illegal to possess, such as a controlled substance under Utah Code Title 58, Chapter 37, the Utah Controlled Substances Act, and
  • The property is not likely to be used to commit additional offenses if it is returned to you.

The determination of substantial hardship is based upon the property's use before it was seized.

When you file your motion the court will schedule a hearing within 14 days. After the hearing the court will issue a decision no more than 20 days after the hearing. If the court agrees with you the court will order that the property be released to you immediately. But the court can put limitations on the property to keep the property available.

Utah Code 24-2-107(3).

Your options to ask for the return of your seized property

The agency that seized your property must return it to you within 75 days if they do not take any action. They might return your property sooner if the prosecuting attorney determines that keeping the property is not necessary or appropriate. You can also ask to have your property returned to you. Your options will depend on whether you are an innocent owner or an interest holder.

Are you an innocent owner? You must have been an owner of the property when the crime was committed. There are other requirements – answer the questions below to see if you qualify as an innocent owner.

Did you know anything about the offense that involves the property? (click to expand)

If yes, you might be an innocent owner. See if you are an innocent owner below.

If no, answer the next question

When you heard about the offense, did you take reasonable steps to stop the use of the property to commit the crime? (click to expand)

If yes, you might be an innocent owner. See if you are an innocent owner below.

If no, answer the next question

Did you become an owner of the property and not know that the property was seized as part of a crime that was committed? (click to expand)

If yes, you might be an innocent owner. See if you are an innocent owner below.

If no, answer the next question

Did you become an owner of the property and not know that the property was seized for forfeiture and you obtained an interest in the property in a bona fide transaction for value, through probate or inheritance, or as part of a divorce?(click to expand)

If yes, you might be an innocent owner. See if you are an innocent owner below.

If no, and you answered no to all of the above questions, see if you are not an innocent owner below.

Utah Code 24-1-102 (11)

You are a interest holder if you meet the definition in Utah Code 24-1-102(12)(a). This mostly includes banks or companies that work in the financial industry.

If you are an innocent owner or an interest holder (click to expand)

You can ask the agency to return the seized property to you by telling them that you are an innocent owner or interest holder.

  • Send a written request with the agency that seized your property before:
    • 30 days have passed since the property was seized, or
    • A civil asset forfeiture case begins.
  • Give the seizing agency:
    • Evidence that proves you are the owner of the property, and
    • A brief description of the date, time, and place that you mislaid or relinquished possession of the seized property or any evidence that you are an innocent owner or interest holder.

The seizing agency must send you a written response within 30 days. The decision must say whether your claim was granted or denied. If the claim is denied the agency must say whether it was denied on the merits or because you did not provide the required information. If you did not provide the required information you have 15 days to do so. If the agency does not give you a written response within 30 days they are required to return the property to you.

If you make a request for a return of the property and the agency denies the claim but a court later determines that you are an innocent owner or interest holder in a civil asset forfeiture proceeding, you can collect attorney fees and court costs for expenses accrued from the date the agency denied your claim.

Utah Code 24-2-108

If you are not an innocent owner (click to expand)

If you are not an innocent owner you can file a Petition to Return Property. We do not have forms for this, but you can try to make your own. In your petition you can ask the court to immediately return the property to you if you post a surety bond with the court in an amount equal to the current fair market value of the property. When you buy a surety bond you are buying a promise by someone else to pay money or be responsible on your behalf.

The court may refuse to release the property if:

  • It is going to be held as evidence, or
  • It is particularly altered or designed for use in the commission of the offense involving the property, or
  • It is contraband - any property that is illegal to possess, including a controlled substance that is possessed, transferred, or offered for distribution in violation of the Utah Controlled Substances Act, or
  • The bond is inadequate.

File the petition in the court where criminal proceedings have begun or in the district court in the county where the property was seized. Serve a copy of the petition on the prosecuting attorney and the agency with custody of the property. See our page on Serving Papers for more details.

Proportionality

Your right to seized property cannot be forfeited if the forfeiture is not proportional. This means the forfeiture cannot be substantially out of proportion to the use of the property in committing the offense when compared to the value of the property. For example, if the property was used in a way that was not important to committing the crime, the forfeiture would not be proportional. The court will look at these factors when considering proportionality:

  • The offense
  • How much the forfeiture will help to remedy the harm caused by the crime
  • The seriousness of your conduct considering the offense
  • How much the property is worth

The prosecuting attorney has the burden of demonstrating that a forfeiture is proportional to the offense subjecting the property to forfeiture.

A forfeiture of any proceeds used to facilitate the commission of an offense that is in violation of federal or state law is proportional.

Utah Code 24-4-113.

The Utah State Courts mission is to provide the people an open, fair, efficient, and independent system for the advancement of justice under the law.

Page Last Modified: 8/18/2022

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