IN THE INTEREST OF T. F. N., JR., A CHILD.
BARNES, P. J., MCMILLIAN and MERCIER, JJ.
Barnes, Presiding Judge.
his delinquency prosecution had concluded, T. F. N. filed a
motion with the juvenile court seeking the return of three
cell phones that had been seized from him by the City of
Clarkston Police Department. Following a hearing, the
juvenile court denied the motion, concluding, among other
things, that T. F. N. had failed to comply with certain
statutory requirements for seeking the return of personal
property from a law enforcement agency, including those set
forth in OCGA § 17-5-54 (c) (3). For the reasons
discussed below, we conclude that the trial court committed
no error and therefore affirm.
record reflects that on January 13, 2016, 16-year-old T. F.
N. was arrested and detained at the DeKalb County Regional
Youth Detention Center on several delinquency charges, and a
police officer with the City of Clarkston Police Department
filed a complaint against T. F. N. in the juvenile court the
next day. The State subsequently filed a delinquency
petition, alleging that T. F. N. had committed multiple
delinquent acts, including theft by taking a motor vehicle
and theft by receiving stolen property based on T. F. N.
having received and retained stolen boots.
connection with T. F. N.'s delinquency prosecution, the
police department applied for and obtained a search warrant
to seize the boots and three cell phones that T. F. N. had on
his person when he was booked at the detention
center. Following execution of the warrant, the
alleged victim of the theft by receiving stolen property
count of the delinquency petition visually inspected the
boots at the police department and identified them as her
own. The police department released the boots to the victim,
and T. F. N. did not challenge that decision.
N. thereafter entered an admission of delinquency to the
charge of theft by taking a motor vehicle, and the juvenile
court adjudicated him delinquent of that offense. The State
dismissed the other charges in the delinquency petition,
including the theft by receiving charge based on the boots.
The juvenile court entered an order of disposition on March
2, 2016, placing T. F. N. in restrictive custody for 10
months for his delinquent act of theft by taking a motor
vehicle, with credit for time served since his detention in
8, 2016, T. F. N., who remained in restrictive custody, filed
a motion with the juvenile court seeking the return of the
three seized cell phones that remained in the custody of the
police department. T. F. N. requested that the cell phones be
released to the Department of Family and Children Services so
that the phones could be returned to him after he completed
juvenile court conducted a hearing on T. F. N.'s motion
for return of the cell phones. At the hearing, the State
argued that T. F. N.'s motion should be denied because T.
F. N. had failed to comply with the requirements found in
OCGA § 17-5-54 (c) (3) (2016),  which provides in part that
"[a]ny person claiming to be a rightful owner of
property shall make an application to the entity holding his
or her property and shall furnish satisfactory proof of
ownership of such property and present personal
identification." T. F. N.'s counsel conceded that T.
F. N. had not complied with OCGA § 17-5-54 (c) (3), but
argued that the juvenile court could order the return of the
phones to him under OCGA § 17-5-54 (c) (2) now that his
delinquency prosecution had concluded.
sole witness at the hearing was a police detective, who
testified about the police department's decision to
retain possession of the cell phones after T. F. N.'s
delinquency prosecution had concluded. According to the
detective, the police department was conducting several
ongoing criminal investigations in which T. F. N. was a
suspect and in which the department anticipated that charges
would be filed against him. The detective testified that the
police department was retaining the cell phones because of
those ongoing investigations.
the hearing, the juvenile court entered an order denying T.
F. N.'s motion for return of the cell phones on two
alternative grounds. First, the juvenile court concluded that
T. F. N. had failed to follow the requirements found in OCGA
§ 17-5-54 (c) (3) for seeking return of the cell phones
from the police department, and thus could not show that the
department had improperly refused to release the phones to
him. Second, the juvenile court concluded that, based on the
testimony of the police detective at the hearing, the cell
phones could be retained by the department due to the ongoing
criminal investigations linked to T. F. N. T. F. N. now
appeals the juvenile court's order.
F. N. contends that the juvenile court erred in concluding
that he was required to follow the requirements set out in
OCGA § 17-5-54 (c) (3) for seeking the return of seized
personal property from a law enforcement agency and in
denying his motion for return of the cell phones for failing
to follow those requirements. According to T. F. N., OCGA
§ 17-5-54 (c) (2) required the juvenile court to return
the cell phones to him upon the conclusion of his delinquency
prosecution, and the procedures found in OCGA § 17-5-54
(c) (3) only apply to third party civilians such as witnesses
and victims who are seeking the return of their personal
property. Alternatively, T. F. N. argues that even if OCGA
§ 17-5-54 (c) (3) applies to him, he complied with its
requirements. We are unpersuaded.
5 of Title 17 of the Georgia Code addresses searches and
seizures by the government, and Article 3 of that chapter
addresses the disposition of various categories of property
after they have been seized. See OCGA §§ 17-5-50 -
17-5-56. Among the provisions found in Article 3, OCGA §
17-5-54 addresses the disposition of personal property in the
custody of a "law enforcement agency" to its
"rightful owner." Subsection (c) of that statute
provides in part:
(1) Except as provided in Chapter 16 of Title 9 [addressing
civil forfeiture proceedings], Code Sections 17-5-55
[addressing the disposition of evidence designated as
dangerous or contraband by state or federal law] and 17-5-56
[addressing the maintenance of evidence containing biological
material], and subsection (b) of this Code section,
when a law enforcement agency assumes custody of any personal
property which is the subject of a crime or has been
abandoned, a disposition of such property shall be made in
accordance with the provisions of this Code section.
(2)When a final verdict and judgment is entered finding a
defendant guilty of the commission of a crime, any personal
property used as evidence in the trial shall be returned to
the rightful owner of the property within 30 days following
the final judgment; provided, however, that if the judgment
is appealed or if the defendant files a motion for a new
trial and if photographs, videotapes, or other identification
or analysis of the personal property will not be sufficient
evidence for the appeal of the case or new trial of the case,