Asset forfeiture laws walk thin line

Asset forfeiture laws, which give law enforcement agencies the ability to seize property deemed to be instrumental in the perpetration of a crime, are getting increased attention across the country.

A total of 12 states now require conviction before forfeiture, according to the Institute of Justice, a Libertarian group.

Law enforcement officials and prosecutors say that the process of seizing assets helps them deter crimes, such as drug trafficking.

The Kansas House Judiciary Committee heard testimony last month on several proposals, including one to require a conviction before property is seized, but opted to send bills to the Kansas Judicial Council, an advisory committee in the judicial branch.

Richard Levy, a University of Kansas constitutional law professor, says asset forfeiture “walks a thin line between civil and criminal procedure.’’

It can be used as a regulatory procedure to deter or discourage “unlawful profits,’’ Levy said, but a seizure could be challenged if it were used as punishment for an offense that a person hasn’t been convicted of. 

Here in Kansas, state lawmakers reportedly are opting not to act this year on questions raised by an audit that was critical of the state’s asset forfeiture laws.

That’s a mistake.

Instead, Kansas state lawmakers are asking a judicial advisory group to review potential changes.

The audit, released last summer, concluded that some law enforcement agencies take advantage of vague laws governing how they should report and use property seized from those suspected of crimes.

The audit also said some departments use proceeds for what look like routine expenses, which can create an incentive for increased seizures, the audit said.

It is important for everyone to support their local law enforcement agencies.

But Kansas apparently is a state that needs to re-examine its asset forfeiture laws sooner rather than  later. 

The Holton Recorder

109 W. Fourth St.
Holton, KS 66436
Phone: 785-364-3141

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