April 21, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Kansas Justice Institute wins civil asset forfeiture case

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A Geary County woman will soon have her vehicle back after a state court dismissed the civil asset forfeiture case against her “with prejudice.” The ruling means the state cannot refile the case.

The case started in June 2023, when the state used civil forfeiture laws to seize Dewonna Goodridge’s car. Goodridge was never charged with a crime and, in fact, Goodridge wasn’t even in the car when the government took it, according to a release from the Kansas Justice Institute — which along with — Christopher Joseph and Carrie Parker of Joseph, Hollander & Craft filed motions on Goodridge’s behalf. KJI, a free public interest law firm that protects property rights statewide, is like, The Sentinel, owned by the Kansas Policy Institute.

“Essentially, the state vaguely suggested that Ms. Goodridge’s son had allegedly committed a crime while he was driving the car, and therefore should be allowed to take her car — even though she hadn’t done anything wrong,” the release read.

Kansas civil asset forfeiture laws allowed the state to keep Goodridge’s car without the opportunity for a meaningful hearing. In February 2024, KJI filed legal motions on behalf of Ms. Goodridge, arguing the lack of a prompt post-seizure hearing was unconstitutional, as was the stop and search of Ms. Goodridge’s car. After the motions were filed, the government chose to return the car and dismissed the case.

“It’s not fair for them to seize my car,” Goodridge said in the release. “Once they do, you’ve got to go to court, hire an attorney and pay fees. What the government expects you to do is give up and walk away. They expect you to give up so they can keep the car. But in my case, I wasn’t wrong. I worked too hard for my property, and I wasn’t going to let them have it. If anyone is in my shoes, don’t give up; keep fighting. Without the Kansas Justice Institute, I wouldn’t have my car.”

It took nearly eight months for Goodridge to get her Chevy Tahoe back.

Kansas civil forfeiture laws allow the government to seize property and hold it for months or years on end, oftentimes forcing property owners to expend time and money navigating a complex system that requires them to prove their own innocence. For many property owners, the time and legal fees required to regain their property are simply too much and they give up.

“Asset forfeiture is abusive and fundamentally unjust, just as Dewonna’s case highlights, KJI Director of Litigation Samuel MacRoberts said. “She didn’t do anything wrong, she wasn’t charged with any crime, but the government took her car anyway. That’s not right, and Kansas forfeiture laws are to blame. At the same time, we’re happy the government eventually did the right thing and dismissed her case. We just wish they hadn’t seized her car to begin with.”

Asset forfeiture victory is a rarity overall, but not the first time KJI has succeeded

According to an Americans for Prosperity Foundation analysis of Kansas-specific data, approximately 90% of seized property is never returned to their owners. 

This case is part of KJI’s efforts to protect Kansas from civil asset forfeiture abuses. In 2021, KJI fought to protect a Kansas man’s 1959 Classic Corvette from being taken by the government. KJI has testified in support of asset forfeiture reform in the Kansas Legislature and written several opinion pieces about forfeiture reform. 

Indeed, in 2022, KJI was able to secure the return of that classic “‘Vette” which the Kansas Highway Patrol wanted to destroy.

Richard Martinez bought the 1959 Corvette from an Indiana used car dealer in 2016, and when he went to have it inspected, the KHP decided it was “contraband” based on an altered Vehicle Identification Number. The VIN ‘alteration’ issue is that it had been painted over as much as 40 years before in a previous restoration, something of which Martinez was unaware. Still, KHP seized the vehicle and spent years trying to have the rare, valuable, classic car destroyed. 

Even while admitting Martinez had committed no crime

The court’s order returning the 1959 Corvette cites HB 2595, which allows for classic cars to be registered in Kansas with a proper bill of sale documentation, and SB 267, an appropriations bill containing language to ensure that Mr. Martinez would get his Corvette back. SB 267 also included up to $20,000 to ensure the value of his vehicle is maintained.

Two bills are currently pending in the Kansas Legislature, Senate Bill 458 and House Bill 2606, both of which would require a court finding that forfeiture is not excessive, a probable cause affidavit as well as other reforms before forfeiture could be required. Both bills have passed and are headed to conference to resolve differences. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly is expected to sign the final bill.

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