Civil forfeiture makes law enforcement lawless. The Supreme Court could change that.

Tyson Timbs made a mistake, but not one as important as Indiana’s Supreme Court made in allowing to stand the punishment the state inflicted on him. He was a drug addict — first with opioids prescribed for a work-related injury, then heroin — when his father died. He blew the $73,000 insurance payout on drugs and a $41,558 Land Rover, which he drove when selling $225 worth of drugs — two grams of heroin — to undercover police officers. Timbs’s vehicle was seized and kept, which amounted to a fine more than 184 times larger than the sum involved in his offense. Come Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning whether this violated the Eighth Amendment, which says: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed , nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” (Emphasis added.)

The seizure was done under Indiana’s version of civil forfeiture laws, which allow governments to seize property used in the commission of a crime. As they are often used, such laws are incentives for abusive governments, because the entity that seizes the property frequently is allowed to profit by keeping or selling it. Lucrative law enforcement will become lawless.