From the NY Times:
The question sounds simple enough: If the police take items from a man who they believe stole them, but he is never convicted of any crime, does he get the items back?
In New York, the answer is seldom straightforward, as William LeRoy has come to realize.
Mr. LeRoy, who owns Billy’s Antiques in Greenwich Village, is trying to reclaim possession of about 100 vintage subway signs that were seized as evidence upon his arrest on theft charges. With the charges now dismissed in Manhattan Criminal Court, Mr. LeRoy wants the signs back.
But the Manhattan district attorney’s office has said it does not have the authority to return them, and is unsure who the rightful owner is. The office told Mr. LeRoy that he may have to sue to get them back.
The district attorney’s stance is based mostly on a provision of the New York City administrative code, which essentially puts the burden on people who have property taken from them to prove they are the rightful owner.