Supreme Court clamps down on ‘excessive fines’ (Civil Asset Forfeiture) by states

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled unanimously that states must adhere to the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines, a decision that will likely limit the ability of states to impose certain fees and seize property.

In delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the Eighth Amendment guards against abuses of the government’s punitive or criminal law-enforcement authority, and that it extends to fines.

The case centered on Tyson Timbs, who pleaded guilty in Indiana state court to dealing in a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit theft. When Timbs was arrested, police seized the Land Rover he had purchased, for $42,000, from an insurance policy he received when his father died.

The state then brought a  civil forfeiture suit against Timbs for his vehicle because it had been used to transport heroin. The trial court denied the state’s forfeiture request.

Since Timbs had recently purchased the vehicle for more than four times the maximum $10,000 monetary fine he can be charged for the drug conviction, the court said the forfeiture violated the Eighth Amendment.