Kansas lawmakers sending asset forfeiture bills for study
"Kansas lawmakers are opting not to act this year on questions raised by an audit critical of the state's asset forfeiture laws, but have instead asked a judicial advisory group to review potential changes.
The audit, released last summer, concluded that law enforcement agencies take advantage of vague laws governing how they should report and use property seized from those suspected of crimes. Some departments use proceeds for what look like routine expenses, which can create an incentive for increased seizures, the audit said.
Law enforcement officials and prosecutors say the process helps them deter profitable crime, like drug trafficking.
Asset forfeiture walks a thin line between civil and criminal procedure, said Richard Levy, a University of Kansas constitutional law professor. 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 a person hasn't been convicted of.
'If you could make the case that what's going on is really a criminal punishment rather than a civil forfeiture and although it's called a civil forfeiture, it's really punitive in character, then the failure to provide all the procedural safeguards that are necessary for criminal prosecution would be a problem.'"