Kansas lawmakers introduce legislation on search warrant reform

Surveillance video released on Monday shows Marion police and deputies raiding the home of...
Surveillance video released on Monday shows Marion police and deputies raiding the home of 98-year-old Joan Meyer, the co-owner of the Marion County Record, a day before she died.(Marion County Record)
Published: Aug. 22, 2023 at 3:30 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (KWCH) - House Democratic Leader Vic Miller and State Representative Jason Probst on Tuesday introduced legislation to reform search warrant policy and discuss recent events involving the search of the Marion County Record.

The home of its publisher Eric and Joan Meyer, along with the home of Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel, led to national condemnation about it violating the first amendment.

“It’s a very serious thing to issue a search warrant, not just to it relates to the media but individuals as well,” said Rep. Miller.

Miller and Probst drafted legislation that would remove the ability of magistrate judges to authorize warrants and leave that only to district judges.

Magistrate judges in Kansas don’t have as much power and authority as district court judges but can still oversee traffic and misdemeanor court cases. They can also approve search warrants in the judicial districts where they serve.

“In light of what we saw in Marion and now that we see the affidavit, that’s come out on this, it’s pretty thin, it’s pretty flimsy. There wasn’t a lot of evidence to support this search and certainly not the seizure,” said Rep. Probst.

The search warrants Marion police executed at the three locations were signed by 8th Judicial District Magistrate Judge Laura Viar. The Marion County Attorney pulled that search warrants last week saying there was insufficient evidence to create a legal link between the alleged crimes and the places searched.

“We need to have a conversation about judicial review of search warrants,” said Rep. Probst. “I know I spent 15 years working in journalism, and I saw firsthand that search warrants weren’t accurately reviewed by judges whenever they were brought in.”

Both Miller and Probst said the bill doesn’t prevent a situation like what happened in Marion County, but it could help slow down the authorization process. The hope is to start the conversation before the next legislative session.

“I don’t want this to fade away until we’ve addressed it,” said Rep. Miller.

Even with the proposed legislation, lawmakers wouldn’t take up a bill until the start of the session in January 2024.