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Kentucky

Kentucky

Kentucky earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws:

Standard of Proof

Low bar to forfeit most property: In general, prosecutors’ standard is akin to probable cause (“slight evidence of traceability” to a crime), and the owner must prove by clear and convincing evidence that property is not connected to a crime. For real property, prosecutors’ standard is clear and convincing evidence.

Innocent Owner Burden

Limited protections for the innocent: Third-party owners must prove their own innocence to recover seized property, unless real property is at stake.

Financial Incentive

Large profit incentive: 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement (85% to the seizing agencies and 15% to the Office of the Attorney General or the Prosecutors Advisory Council).

Recent Reforms

  • None.

Recommendations

  • End civil forfeiture
  • Direct all forfeiture proceeds to a non-law enforcement fund
  • Strengthen protections for innocent third-party owners
  • Close the equitable sharing loophole
  • Strengthen transparency and accountability requirements

State and Federal Forfeiture Revenues, 2000-2019

Between 2007 and 2019, Kentucky law enforcement agencies forfeited more than $41 million under state law. Between 2000 and 2019, they generated an additional $118 million from federal equitable sharing, for a total of at least $159 million in forfeiture revenue. Kentucky ranks 35th for its participation in the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. The state does not prevent state and local agencies from using equitable sharing to circumvent state forfeiture law.

At least $159 million in state and federal forfeiture revenue
2000–2019

Year Kentucky Forfeiture Revenues Dept. of Justice Equitable Sharing Proceeds Treasury Equitable Sharing Proceeds Total
2000 Unknown $2,497,441 $35,000 $2,532,441
2001 Unknown $4,938,459 $94,000 $5,032,459
2002 Unknown $2,691,400 $355,000 $3,046,400
2003 Unknown $2,233,489 $156,000 $2,389,489
2004 Unknown $3,886,825 $211,000 $4,097,825
2005 Unknown $3,441,424 $1,460,000 $4,901,424
2006 Unknown $5,621,490 $254,000 $5,875,490
2007 $979,989 $7,562,868 $311,000 $8,853,857
2008 $805,911 $5,865,895 $783,000 $7,454,806
2009 $2,116,603 $4,234,189 $697,000 $7,047,792
2010 $1,850,887 $4,845,652 $460,000 $7,156,539
2011 $2,039,800 $8,126,673 $439,000 $10,605,473
2012 $2,038,917 $5,125,641 $846,000 $8,010,558
2013 $2,270,303 $6,280,647 $308,000 $8,858,950
2014 $3,217,098 $5,154,616 $1,728,000 $10,099,714
2015 $3,197,487 $5,965,162 $1,335,000 $10,497,649
2016 $4,915,588 $4,390,196 $1,814,000 $11,119,784
2017 $3,204,986 $4,599,718 $346,000 $8,150,704
2018 $5,512,007 $9,484,449 $980,000 $15,976,456
2019 $9,320,083 $7,980,996 $935,000 $18,236,079
Totals $41,469,659 $104,927,230 $13,547,000 $159,943,889

All revenue figures include both civil and criminal forfeitures. Revenues are not adjusted for inflation.

Kentucky's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

D-

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

F

Statewide Forfeiture Reports

C

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

D

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

B

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

F

For full transparency and accountability grades, visit www.ij.org/TransparencyReportCards.

Forfeitures Under Kentucky Law: Key Facts

Median Value

UNKNOWN

Kentucky does not report property-level data necessary to calculate median forfeiture value.

Property Types

UNKNOWN

Kentucky does not report the types of property forfeited.

Civil vs. Criminal

UNKNOWN

Kentucky does not report whether forfeitures are processed under civil or criminal forfeiture law.

Expenditures

UNKNOWN

Kentucky does not report how forfeiture funds are spent.

Data Notes and Legal Sources

Data Notes

Agency-level forfeiture proceeds data were obtained via public records requests to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. Historically, only a handful of agencies regularly submitted required reports to ODCP. Between 2014 and 2018, the number of reporting agencies more than doubled. Increased compliance with reporting requirements likely accounts for the large jump in forfeiture proceeds in recent years. Equitable sharing data are from DOJ’s and Treasury’s annual forfeiture reports. Due to differences in reporting and accounting practices, state figures may not match aggregate numbers produced by the state or cover the same 12-month period as the federal data.

Legal Sources

Standard of proof: In general, the government need only show “slight evidence of traceability” to a crime, a standard akin to probable cause, at which the owner must show the property’s innocence by clear and convincing evidence. The government’s standard of proof increases to clear and convincing evidence for real property.

Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 218A.410(1)(j); Robbins v. Commonwealth, 336 S.W.3d 60, 64–65 (Ky. 2011); Gritton v. Commonwealth, 477 S.W.3d 603, 605 (Ky. Ct. App. 2015) (confirming this procedure generally applies to forfeitures of other personal property as well as money).

Innocent owner burden: Depends on the property. Generally, the owner bears the burden of proof. But for real property, the government bears the burden.

Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 218A.410(1)(j); Robbins v. Commonwealth, 336 S.W.3d 60, 64–65 (Ky. 2011).

Financial incentive: 100% (85% to the law enforcement agencies seizing the property, 15% to the Office of the Attorney General or to the Prosecutors Advisory Council).

Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 218A.420(4).

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