View Full Version : Police Giving Evidence Back

09-05-2015, 09:52 PM
Hi Everyone,
I'm deep into my research for my historical mystery series, but I couldn't seem to find a straight answer to this question so hopefully there are some experts here who might know.

In my book, one of the suspects has been corresponding with the murder victim with letters (this is set in the past before email). The letters aren't love letters but more notes arranging for meetings. One of the main pieces of evidence for the case against this suspect is that the last note he got from the victim was asking him to meet her at a certain time which was established as the time of death.

My question is, while I know the police would need to hold that last note as evidence, would they also need to hold the other notes? They did take them and examine them but right now in my book I have them having given them back to the suspect (all except the last one, of course). Would that be feasible?

From what I could find out in my research, it's not a straight yes or no. For example, in a film that I saw set in the 1940s, the police took some love letters from a woman who had been corresponding with a man they suspect of committing a crime (not murder, though). They took the letters to examine them and they gave them back to her soon after. I know it's not the same situation, but I'm wondering if, since the letters don't directly have to do with the murder itself (since they were written well before it) and serve mainly to establish a relationship between the suspect and murder victim (but don't have a direct bearing on the motive for the crime), would they be returned?

Thanks for the help!


09-06-2015, 12:19 AM
This might be better in the Story Research forum. A mod may be along any minute now to port your inquiry to that place of interest . . .

Where (jurisdiction) and when does this take place? Did this criminal case go to court? State or federal court? Were the documents admitted as evidence?

In many court systems items admitted as evidence go into the custody of the clerk of court, and may or may not actually remain in police hands, depending on involved logistics. As evidence, some items might be returned at some point, but that would likely be at the discretion of the court, typically upon an appropriate motion and hearing.

Items not admitted as evidence typically remain in police hands, pending any subsequent requests for disposition (return, disposal as abandoned, destruction, etc.). Items considered contraband or otherwise illegal are usually destroyed. Different LE agencies have their own protocols, and may retain copies of certain materials deemed to have criminal intelligence value.

What does your story need?

09-06-2015, 01:45 AM
If we're talking about any time after the late eighteen hundreds, the investigating authority would not return such letters. Part of their role is to accumulate evidence which may assist a prosecution. Letters confirming a connection between a victim and possible perpetrator would be held as potential evidence until they became unnecessary i.e. the suspect was cleared. Of course, a great deal depends on the contents of such letters, but the mere existence of a link between the victim and the suspect is enough to have the police hold on to them as potential evidence.

09-06-2015, 02:23 AM
I agree that the police would almost certainly hold onto the letters. Not only do they establish a pattern of communication (and meetings) with the suspect, but they may also be needed to prove that the final letter was, in fact, sent by the suspect -- handwriting analysis, for example. They would likely be entered into evidence during a trial (if you go that way). It's possible copies could be made and used, if your story requires they be returned, but I think you're better off having the cops hang on to them.

09-06-2015, 06:38 AM
I agree with the others. Once the letters are in police custody, they stay in police custody until the conclusion of the case, which could be years if the case is appealed. The owner of the letters could make a motion for a return of property, but a court is highly unlikely to intervene and order the letters returned to their owner until the case is completely resolved.

09-06-2015, 02:12 PM
Porting over to the aforementioned Story Research and Experts forum...

Much luck, tammay!

09-06-2015, 08:33 PM
Do you need the letters returned for your plot to work? If not, they're kept until after the trial, appeals and all adjudication is over.


09-06-2015, 10:28 PM
Just had a thought: I'm not sure when your story is based, but don't forget about discovery (http://criminal.lawyers.com/criminal-law-basics/criminal-law-right-to-evidence-disclosure.html). That's the period in which the prosecution has to show much of its evidence to the defense. So the prosecution would have to give copies of the letters & notes to the defense team. I'd assume those would be kept at the attorney's office.