Supreme Court hinders state and local governments’ ability to seize property
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Eighth Amendment’s clause which prohibits excessive financial penalties must be enforced at all levels of government to protect people from harsh government retaliation. It had previously been applied to federal crimes only.
The Eighth Amendment states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Two of those commands — regarding bail and cruel and unusual punishments — had already been deemed to apply to state and local governments. But, until now, the ban on excessive fines had not.
This limits the practice of civil asset forfeiture, which is seizing property or other monetary gains from those charged with a crime. Critics of this practice have given overwhelming examples of how the government abuses this practice to retaliate or punish its targets.
According to the Washington Post, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, announced the Supreme Court’s decision, stating that “for good reason, the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history: Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties. Excessive fines can be used, for example, to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies… Even absent a political motive, fines may be employed in a measure out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence.”
According to a national study cited by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), it concluded that “60 percent of the 1,400 municipal and county agencies surveyed across the country relied on forfeiture profits as a ‘necessary’ part of their budget.”
The decision came after Tyson Timbs of Marion, Indiana sued the state for abusive asset forfeiture.
After pleading guilty to his charge, Timbs was sentenced to home detention. However, Indiana also seized his $42,000 Land Rover SUV.
Timbs proceeded to sue the state and the judge concluded that the forfeiture of the SUV was disproportionate to Timbs’ charges. However, the Indiana Supreme Court maintained that the Eighth Amendment clause did not apply to individual states and wouldn’t “impose federal obligations on the state that the federal government itself has not mandated.”
The Supreme Court did not decide whether the seizure of Timbs’ SUV was excessive, it only confirmed that state and local governments can no longer take excessive fines.