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Firearms seized by Washington law-enforcement officers may be difficult to recover

police confiscate gunWoe betide the law-abiding firearms owner unlucky enough to have his firearms seized by a law-enforcement agency in Washington.  Time and again, law-enforcement agencies delay or refuse the return of such property, even when there is no good reason for the agencies to hold it.

How, you may wonder, does a “law-abiding firearms owner” lose his lawfully owned property to the police?  Consider these true-life examples:

*A person lawfully transporting his firearm in his vehicle is involved in a collision which leaves him seriously injured.  While the injured person travels in an aid car to the hospital, police at the accident scene decide to have the damaged vehicle towed or impounded.  As part of that process, an officer lawfully searches the vehicle, finds the firearm, and takes the firearm  into safekeeping.

*A firearm stolen from the owner’s home is recovered by police when they arrest the burglar.  Police hold the firearm as evidence while the burglar is awaiting trial.

*A woman concerned about her partner’s depression invites law-enforcement officers to the home and asks the officers to remove the partner’s firearms.

*Law-enforcement officers confront an open-carry advocate, issue a criminal citation for unlawful display, and confiscate his firearm.  The prosecuting attorney declines to prosecute and charges are never filed.

*A person who is licensed to carry a concealed pistol suffers a heart attack in a public place.   Paramedics turn the firearm over to the police.

Many police and sheriff’s departments recognize that the constitutions of the United States and the State of Washington explicitly forbid the government to deprive a person of property without due process of law.  However, some departments are not meticulous about these provisions and some erect unreasonable hurdles for an owner to recover his property.  That is the point at which many frustrated owners will sometimes contact a lawyer for help.  Unfortunately, in most cases the expense of effective and sustained assistance from a lawyer will quickly surpass the value of the property held hostage by police.  Law-enforcement agencies understand this fact of life all too well, and they know that most owners will quickly recognize the absurdity of  spending a couple of thousand bucks to recover a beloved firearm which can be acquired new for maybe $700.  Cheaper by far to buy two new guns and let the lawyer find other clients.

If yours is the rare case of an extremely valuable firearm, or numerous firearms, held by law enforcement, the arithmetic of legal representation may make sense.  If yours is the case of a firearm with great sentimental value, you may believe at the outset that no price is too high to recover a family heirloom.  Just be sure that you don’t wind up with a case of buyer’s remorse when the lawyer presents the bill.

A couple of suggestions for those whose firearms have been seized, or are about to be seized, by a police officer:

*Get a written receipt which identifies each firearm precisely, including serial number.

*Document the condition of the firearm (in case it is damaged while in possession of the police).  Photos are best.  Written descriptions are better than nothing.

Above all, avoid the situations which may result in the loss of your valuable property.