Court Rules Confiscated Firearms Be Returned After Case is Closed

If you are detained by police, property in your possession can be confiscated and not returned until you are released pending a court hearing or the case is resolved.

However, if that confiscated property includes legally owned firearms, some law enforcement agencies in some jurisdictions believe they do not have to return these possessions. In fact, in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, this type of theft is, apparently, standard operating procedure.

A recent ruling by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court definitively states that law enforcement agencies and prosecutors must prove a legitimate need for retaining property -- including firearms -- once a case is resolved.

The ruling stems from a July 2008 traffic stop in which Errol Houston was charged with illegal possession of a firearm and other offenses in New Orleans. Prosecutors later dropped all charges against Houston, who had a legal permit to carry.

Nevertheless, the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office and New Orleans Police Department refused to return Houston's firearm. After a year of denials, Houston took his case to federal court.

According to the NRA, the ruling is "an important victory for gun rights, property rights and due process in Louisiana and nationwide as it ensures prosecuting attorneys must prove a legitimate need for retaining property after charges against a person have been dropped."

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