Civil Asset Forfeiture

Kansas Police Seized Her Truck. It Took Her 8 Months To Get it Back, Despite Never Being Charged With a Crime.

Dewonna Goodridge quickly discovered that Kansas civil asset forfeiture laws were stacked against her when sheriff's deputies seized her truck.


Dewonna Goodridge, a 57-year-old Junction City resident, says she worked 12-hour shifts, six days a week as a machine operator to save up money for her 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe. 

All it took for Kansas law enforcement to take it from her last June was a traffic stop that didn't involve her and an evidence-free claim that there were marijuana crumbs in the center console of her truck.

Goodridge fought for over eight months to get her truck back. Prosecutors in Geary County, Kansas, agreed earlier this month to return it after Goodridge challenged the seizure with help from the Kansas Justice Institute* and the law firm of Joseph, Hollander & Craft.

"I just didn't think it was fair because I worked really hard to get this vehicle," she says. "They knew when they ran the plates that everything came back to me, and I just couldn't understand. I couldn't let them take my truck like that."

Goodridge's case is an example of the poor protections for innocent owners in civil forfeiture proceedings, and it comes at the same time that Kansas lawmakers are working on significant reforms to the state's civil asset forfeiture laws because of stories like hers.

Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police can seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity such as drug trafficking, even if the owner is never charged with a crime, and even in cases where there is no physical evidence a crime occurred.

Law enforcement groups say civil asset forfeiture allows them to disrupt organized crime like drug trafficking by targeting its illicit proceeds. However, a wide range of civil liberties groups argue that there are far too few protections for property owners, who often bear the burden and cost of going to court to prove their innocence.

Goodridge's case began in June of last year, when Geary County sheriff's deputies pulled over her son, who was driving her Tahoe, for several alleged traffic violations. (The Kansas Justice Institute argued in a motion to suppress that the initial alleged infraction, failing to signal while exiting a roundabout, was not in fact a violation and that the rest of the ensuing traffic stop and search were illegal.)

After Goodridge's son had been detained, Geary deputies brought in a drug-sniffing dog. According to an affidavit from one of the arresting officers, the dog alerted on Goodridge's truck. The officer also claimed that she found "shake"—small marijuana crumbs—in the center console of the truck, although the affidavit goes on to note that "no items of evidence were collected upon completion of the search of the vehicle."

Goodridge's son had been driving to meet her, so she was at the scene of the traffic stop. She knew that her son was about to be arrested, but she had no idea she wouldn't be allowed to retrieve her truck.

"They did the search," Goodridge recalls. "[The officer] walked back to her car, got on her radio, and then she said, 'My supervisor told me to seize the truck so you're not going to get it back."

In a notice of pending forfeiture filed last August, more than a month after the initial seizure, the Geary County Attorney's Office claimed Goodridge's 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe "represent the proceeds of illegal drug transactions, or was used, or intended to be used, to facilitate drug transactions." The affidavit noted that at the time of his arrest, Goodridge's son had a pending court case for marijuana charges, but he was not charged with any new drug crimes as a result of the traffic stop, nor was Goodridge.

Goodridge filed a petition last October citing Kansas statute that is supposed to protect innocent owners from forfeiture when they aren't aware of the alleged criminal activity. However, the government did not respond, missing a November deadline. It wasn't until February 22, several weeks after Goodridge's lawyers filed motions for a probable validity hearing and to suppress evidence from the traffic stop that Geary County prosecutors responded, announcing that they were dismissing the case and returning Goodridge's truck.

Goodridge says that losing her truck for eight months put a serious strain on her and her family, who were suddenly lacking their only dependable, large vehicle.

"I'm having to get up early to go take my daughter-in-law to work, come back and pick her up and run all the kids to all the sports events and pick them up from practices and stuff," Goodridge says. "It was pure hell."

Cases like Goodridge's, where an innocent owner's vehicle is seized for an alleged crime they did not commit, are not unusual. 

Before Albuquerque ended its asset forfeiture program, it would force owners, even innocent owners, to pay $850 to recover their cars. In Albuquerque resident Arlene Harjo's case, the city offered to return her car for $4,000 after her son was arrested for drunk driving.

In 2016, an elderly couple filed a civil rights lawsuit challenging Arizona's civil forfeiture laws after sheriff's deputies pulled over their son, who was driving their car, seized $31,000 in cash they found inside, and seized the car as well, despite neither the couple nor their son ever being charged with a crime.

Goodridge's eight-month wait is also not unusual. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled that Detroit's asset forfeiture scheme violated residents' constitutional rights by making them wait months for court hearings to challenge the validity of seizures. One of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit waited two years for a hearing.

The Supreme Court is currently considering whether property owners have a due process right to a prompt post-seizure hearing, in response to two lawsuits from two Alabama women who were deprived of their cars for months while fighting to prove they were, like Goodridge, innocent owners.

In response to outrageous stories like these, many states have passed civil asset forfeiture reforms to strengthen protections for innocent owners. However, Kansas is not one of them.

The Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public-interest law firm, gave Kansas a "D-" grade in its most recent 50-state survey of asset forfeiture laws, citing the state's low bar to forfeit property; poor protections for innocent owners, who bear the burden of proving their innocence; and the large profit incentive for law enforcement.

A 2022 report by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) found that law enforcement in Kansas raked in $21 million through civil asset forfeiture between 2019 and 2021. Less than a quarter of the owners were convicted of a crime in those cases.

The two chambers of the Kansas Legislature are currently trying to resolve the differences between two major asset forfeiture reform bills. The Kansas Reflector reported in February that "both bills would remove the crime of drug possession from the list of offenses subject to forfeiture, shorten the window of time for property to be returned to the owner, require a judge to approve a probable cause affidavit before a forfeiture case could proceed, and allow defendants who recovered more than half of their property to recoup attorney fees and litigation costs."

The proposed reforms are welcome news to Goodridge. And they should be welcome news to all Kansans, because while what happened to Goodridge is common, the outcome of her case is not. The AFPF analysis found that nine out of 10 property owners never got their property back after it was seized by Kansas law enforcement.

"Dewonna's case in some ways exemplifies just how unfair forfeiture is," Sam MacRoberts, the Kansas Justice Institute's litigation director, says. "On the other hand, her case is a rarity because she actually got her car back."

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the Kansas Justice Institute.