Can the police keep my laptop even after court cleared me?

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Can the police keep my laptop even after court cleared me?

A search warrant served on us for child porn because my brother’s 7 year old uploaded herself stripping on YouTube. The police took all phones and computers. They brought my phone back 2 hours later and said it was clear. My brother went to court and got his daughter back after they determined this house was safe. The police returned all the devices except mine laptop and my mother’s desktop. Upon requesting them back, we were told no since they hadn’t yet sent them to forensics to be searched because they didn’t have the passwords. We then offered the passwords, they still refused. I have nothing to do with this case; I was just visiting my mom for a few days. her phone is the device that the content was uploaded with and the cops had no interest in that. She was at work when they searched. What’s really going on here?

Asked on July 3, 2019 under Criminal Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 1 year ago | Contributor

A laptop can only be kept if 1) it is stolen property or the product of a crime; 2) it was used to commit a crime; or 3) it is still evidence in an ongoing case.
1) does not apply; you say the content was on your mother's mother's phone, not your laptop, so 2) does not apply, either; and you indicate the case is closed, so 3) should not apply unless they discovered other criminal or potential criminal content on it (e.g other child porn; evidence of some financial or other crime; etc.). If they found other criminal content or evidence on the laptop, they could retain it while investigating or (if charges are brought) prosecuting a case; but if there is nothing else criminal on it, they have to return it at this point. If they will not, you could sue the police department for its return; unfortunately, if they won't voluntarily give it back, a lawsuit and court order would be the only way to get it back.


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