Opinion: The Supreme Court Signals It May Rein in Abusive Property Seizures

In the United States, civil forfeiture was largely relegated to admiralty and customs law until the 1980s, when Congress and the states expanded its reach to permit its use against drug kingpins, money launderers, and organized crime.

But federal and most state laws permitted agencies to keep some or all of the proceeds of their seizures, and afforded property owners so few due process protections that the government can successfully win a forfeiture case even when it has little or no evidence of criminal behavior.

This was clearly not the case for Timbs, but seizing a $42,000 car as an instrumentality in a minor drug offense, the maximum criminal fine for which was $10,000, raised an important question: Was the seizure of Timbs’ car unconstitutional under the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment?