Passing of Senate Bill 458 Helps Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture in Kansas

Published: 3 June 2024

                    A gavel rests on top of 100 dollar bills

The Passing of SB 458 Reforms the Kansas Standard Seizure and Forfeiture Act to Protect Against Wrongful Asset Forfeiture

On April 23, 2024, Governor Laura Kelly signed Senate Bill 458, which means substantial reforms to the Kansas Standard Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Act will take effect beginning in July 1. Substantial due process protections implemented by the bill include a requirement that commencement of forfeiture proceedings be supported by a probable cause affidavit, a requirement that clear and convincing evidence support a final forfeiture order, and a requirement that courts consider whether forfeiture is excessive under the circumstances.

The bill was based in large part on the recommendations of the Judicial Council Civil Asset Forfeiture Advisory Committee comprised of judges, lawyers, law enforcement, legislators, and advocates—including Joseph, Hollander & Craft’s Christopher (Chris) Joseph, who regularly litigates forfeiture cases in Kansas state and federal courts.

This was Chris’s second time serving on the Judicial Council Civil Asset Forfeiture Advisory Committee, which first convened in 2017. The Committee’s earlier efforts resulted in the addition of K.S.A. 60-4127 to the Kansas Standard Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Act. Although K.S.A. 60-4127 did not do much to change the day-to-day practice of civil forfeiture in Kansas, it did implement reporting requirements that increased transparency regarding precisely how much currency and other property was being seized for forfeiture throughout Kansas and what became of that seized currency and property.

According to Chris, this information was invaluable to advocating for the additional reforms implemented under Senate Bill 458. He explained:

The data supported what I had come to believe over several years of experience in this field: people have been losing their property to forfeiture because the fight to get it back is too expensive. Key reforms in SB 458, such as attorney fees for prevailing claimants, are intended to prevent that from continuing.

Under the new attorney fee provision Chris mentions, courts must order the law enforcement agency that seized the property to pay reasonable attorney fees and litigation costs to a prevailing claimant (anyone who gets an order requiring law enforcement to return at least half the aggravate value of the claimed property). Chris advises:

This provision will encourage counsel to assist claimants in recovering wrongfully seized property that would otherwise be forfeited due to property owners’ lack of familiarity with forfeiture law or lack of funds to pay knowledgeable counsel. Access to effective legal representation is essential to preventing abuse of asset seizure and forfeiture law.

While he is pleased with Senate Bill 458, Chris says he will continue to advocate for additional reforms. In particular, he suggests a prohibition on referring seized assets for forfeiture under federal law—a provision he believes is necessary to prevent state and local law enforcement from circumventing the reforms Senate Bill 458 implements. Chris would also like to see forfeited funds deposited in a general account devoted to something that benefits the entire state. This would mark a significant change from the current system, under which seized funds stay with the seizing agency.


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