The law of Kansas civil asset forfeiture is among the worst in the nation, and demands reform.
Civil asset forfeiture is a process whereby law enforcements takes and keeps a person’s property merely because they are suspected of a crime. No criminal conviction is required, and the property is often kept without regard to the outcome of the case, if charges are even filed.
The Institute for Justice has a comprehensive report titled Policing for Profit. The report provides this summary of the current law in Kansas:
Kansas has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country, earning a D-. State law requires only a preponderance of the evidence in order to establish a connection between property and a crime, thus making the property forfeitable. Individuals bringing an innocent owner claim bear the burden of proving that they were not involved in any criminal activity to have their seized property returned. Furthermore, Kansas law enforcement agencies keep 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds. Although the Kansas attorney general has ruled that forfeiture funds may only be used for special law enforcement projects and not to meet normal operating expenses, this still provides considerable incentive to seize.
Each Kansas law enforcement agency must deposit its forfeiture proceeds into a special law enforcement trust fund maintained by its budgetary authority — such as a city council or the state Legislature — and make annual reports to that authority. Unfortunately, state law does not require that these reports be standardized or filed with a central entity, meaning that obtaining an accurate picture of all forfeiture activity in the Sunflower State would require submitting a Kansas Open Records Act request to every law enforcement agency or budgetary authority in the state and then compiling those records. This process does not hold law enforcement agencies accountable, nor does it provide the public with any understanding of forfeiture activity in the state.
This is an area of Kansas law that desperately needs reform. Following, testimony I will deliver regarding HB 2018, introduced by Representative Gail Finney of Wichita.
Testimony to House Committee on Judiciary as proponent of House Bill 2018, concerning the Kansas standard asset forfeiture act.
January 24, 2017
Representative Blaine Finch, Chair
House Judiciary Committee
Dear Representative Finch and committee members,
I am concerned that current law regarding civil asset forfeiture in Kansas creates incentives that are contrary to justice. In order to punish citizens, the state should first obtain a conviction of a crime. But the asset forfeiture law in Kansas allows punishment before conviction, and punishment even if no criminal charges are filed or successfully prosecuted. This punishment is the seizing of assets without regard to criminal guilt.
This ability to seize assets without a criminal conviction creates incentives for “policing for profit,” which is the title of an exhaustive report from the Institute for Justice at ij.org. The first recommendation in this report is “Lawmakers should eliminate any financial incentive for law enforcement to seize property.” HB 2018, by requiring a criminal conviction before assets are seized, is a good first step towards reform of this important area of Kansas law.