Constitution’s ‘excessive fines’ ban bolstered by US Supreme Court


In one remarkable exchange, the solicitor general representing IN acknowledged that civil asset forfeiture even allowed police to seize the vehicle of someone driving merely 5 miles per hour over the speed limit - or, as Justice Stephen Breyer put it at the time, "anyone who speeds has to forfeit the Bugatti, Mercedes or special Ferrari, or even jalopy".

The Supreme Court voted unanimously Wednesday that the constitution's ban on excessive fines does apply to states and local governments. During oral arguments in November, Indiana's solicitor general got boxed into a corner by Justice Stephen Breyer, who managed to twist the government's lawyer into arguing that Indiana should be allowed to seize vehicles for as small an offense as driving 5 miles per hour over the speed limit, which literally elicited laughter in the courtroom. Making clear that the Eighth Amendment applies to the states will make it far easier to challenge unreasonable fines and fees-including not just asset forfeiture cases, but also situations where local governments hit homeowners with massive civil penalties for offenses such as unapproved paint jobs or Halloween decorations.

Reading a summary of her opinion in the courtroom, Ginsburg noted that governments employ fines "out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence" because fines are a source of revenue.

"All of these concerns that have been raised about financial penalties in lower level criminal cases will now get litigated much more and we will learn much more about how courts are going to treat them", he said.

New Mexico now requires a criminal conviction before any property is seized, and police in Florida need to prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that property was linked to a crime before it's seized. Arizona raised the burden on law enforcement to prove property was used in a crime from a preponderance of evidence to clear and convincing evidence, while MS passed a law enacting a slew of provisions aimed at bringing more transparency to the practice.

Ginsburg noted that other elements of the Eighth Amendment already are applicable to the states.

"There will be many years of litigation of what makes a fine excessive", he said.

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With money he received from a life insurance policy after his father's death, Timbs bought the Land Rover. The amendment states that "excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted".

They said the Eight Amendment's protection against excessive fines should be incorporated through the 14th Amendment's privileges and immunity clause rather than through due process.

But the Indiana Supreme Court held that the excessive-fines clause did not apply to the states.

Besides today's action, the most recent time the court applied part of the Bill of - or an amendment of the Bill of Rights to the states was in 2010, when it applied the Second Amendment, the right of individuals to have a gun in the home for self-defense, to the states.

The justices sent the case back to a lower court to consider whether IN officials went too far IN seizing Tyson Timbs' Land Rover.

Timbs pleaded guilty in 2015 to one count of dealing in controlled substances and one count of conspiracy to commit theft after selling four grams of heroin to undercover police officers for $385 in Marion, Indiana in two separate transactions two years earlier, according to legal filings. "Now it's a lot different", Timbs told the Associated Press.

This article was written by Robert Barnes, a reporter for The Washington Post.