What is the criteria that must be met by law officials prior to them retaining personal property regarding an investigation?

UPDATED: Oct 30, 2011

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What is the criteria that must be met by law officials prior to them retaining personal property regarding an investigation?

A traffic accident resulted in a death. During the time officers were detaining the surviving driver after the accident, an officer asked if the driver had his cell phone, then asked to “see it”. It was not returned to the driver. Requests for it to be returned were denied with the explanation that the investigators were seeking a search warrant to look through the phone’s contents. Since there was no indication that cell phone use was a mitigating factor, they had no probable cause to believe searching the phone would render useful information. Is it legal for them to keep it?

Asked on October 30, 2011 under Criminal Law, Minnesota


FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Given the circumstances that you have written about where there was a traffic accident resulting in the death of a person, law enforcement has the right to investigate all possible causes of the accident including whether or not the use of a cell phone at the time the accident happened may have been a contributing factor for the incident.

As such, the cell phone that was seized possibly could be valuable evidence as to how the accident and the resulting death happened. There was nothing improper in my opinion for law enforcement to seize the telephone pending the investigation of the accident.

Good question.

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