State Supreme Court: District Court should have returned man’s possessions

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in favor of a Cheyenne man who pleaded guilty to assault against his father, saying that he was allowed to ask a district court to return his possession after his case concluded.

Robert C. Bunten III appealed his case to the Wyoming Supreme Court after District Judge Catherine R. Rogers ruled that the Laramie County District Court did not have proper jurisdiction to grant a motion to return property confiscated in his case, according to the Wyoming Supreme Court opinion.

Bunten was arrested on charges of burglary, aggravated assault and battery after a fight with his father, which ended in his father being “severely” beaten. 

When he was arrested, he said $699 and shoes that had blood on them were taken. The opinion indicated that there were no internal police records that documented the confiscation of money or property.

After he was sentenced, Bunten filed a motion to return the shoes and money. 

The state did not respond to the case, and Rogers denied the motion, determining that he was seeking “post-conviction relief ” without citing any laws that show the court’s authority to grant his request.

Rogers’ denial went on to say that the District Court did not have the authority to grant his request, and that property concerns would be a matter for civil court proceedings.

In the Wyoming Supreme Court opinion, Justice Keith Kautz said that, generally, any non-contraband items seized in an investigation should be returned to their owners at the end of criminal proceedings. The court also cited case law that states law enforcement is required to deliver any property to its rightful owner without judicial action, as long as those items are not evidence of a crime.