Topeka, Kan. — Police can keep seized property “as long as necessary,” state statute says, if they believe it could be evidence in a trial. A proposed change to state law would require police to give items back.
Police hold the power to seize property believed to be used in a crime. Some cases stall or charges don’t move forward and critics of existing state law said getting back property even when it doesn’t link to criminal activity is too hard.
“Many (people) opt not to fight the forfeiture and reluctantly give up their property, rather than rack up legal bills exceeding the property’s value,” Alieen Berquist, community engagement manager for the ACLU of Kansas, wrote in testimony to lawmakers.
Berquist said the process gets further complicated because people aren’t entitled to legal help when asking for their items back and have to fight that legal battle alone. Other supporters of the bill worry that property may be seized even if it isn’t necessary to a case. The bill was supported by law enforcement and passed out of the Senate 40-0 and 122-0 in the House.
The legislation also requires law enforcement to file receipts of seized property with the judge who approved the search warrant. It clarifies what qualifies as a “dangerous drug” and should be destroyed.
The bill also adds steps police will take when contacting owners of seized weapons and allows them to transfer weapons to firearm dealers. People with felonies could be ineligible to own a firearm, but they might regain eligibility if they have charges expunged. Navigating that process now can be confusing. Lawmakers hope the law change will make that clearer.
Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, said law enforcement is concerned weapons used in crimes end up back on the street. He said this bill doesn’t completely address that issue but will help.
“This bill does straighten things out and gives law enforcement some parameters that they can work within,” the legislator said.
Other bills requiring a conviction or creating a new process for civil asset forfeiture were introduced this session. One such bill would prevent police from taking money under $200. Both got hearings in committee but were not voted on.
The 2020 civil asset seizure report by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation says a total of $6.2 million in property and money was seized. The Kansas Highway patrol seized $3 million in cash, the most of any agency listed on that report.
“These provisions,” Berquist said, “could go a long way toward protecting the rights of Kansans and preventing policing for profit.”
Blaise Mesa reports on criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can follow him on Twitter @Blaise_Mesa or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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