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US Supreme Court Holds that 8th Amendment Excessive Fines Clause Applies to States Under 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause

cash-money-1520773-300x225In Timbs v. Indiana, the United States Supreme Court ruled that “the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause [is] an ‘incorporated’ protection applicable to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.”

The background was as follows. Petitioner “Timbs pleaded guilty in Indiana state court to dealing in a controlled substance…. At the time of Timbs’s arrest, the police seized his vehicle, a Land Rover SUV Timbs had purchased for about $42,000” “with money he received from an insurance policy when his father died. The State engaged a private law firm to bring a civil suit for forfeiture of Timbs’s Land Rover, charging that the vehicle had been used to transport heroin. After Timbs’s guilty plea in the criminal case, the trial court held a hearing on the forfeiture demand. Although finding that Timbs’s vehicle had been used to facilitate violation of a criminal statute, the court denied the requested forfeiture, observing that Timbs had recently purchased the vehicle for $42,000, more than four times the maximum $10,000 monetary fine assessable against him for his drug conviction. Forfeiture of the Land Rover, the court determined, would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Timbs’s offense, hence unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause.” The Indiana Supreme Court reversed, holding “that the Excessive Fines Clause constrains only federal action and is inapplicable to state impositions.” Timbs sought certiorari.

In its decision in favor of Timbs, the United States Supreme Court stated, “Like the Eighth Amendment’s proscriptions of ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and ‘[e]xcessive bail,’ the protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government’s punitive or criminal- law-enforcement authority. This safeguard, we hold, is ‘fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty,’ with ‘dee[p] root[s] in [our] history and tradition.’ McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742, 767 (2010) (internal quotation marks omitted; emphasis deleted). The Excessive Fines Clause is therefore incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” The Court noted that “the historical and logical case for concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause is overwhelming.” “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,’ for ‘fines are a source of revenue,’ while other forms of punishment ‘cost a State money.’ Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957, 979, n. 9 (1991) (opinion of Scalia, J.).”

If the Commonwealth has filed for civil forfeiture in relation to a criminal offense in which you are charged, it is critical that you have an attorney who is up to date on this most recent development in the law and who will fight to protect you and your property from unlawful government action. Attorney Daniel Cappetta is a seasoned and skilled attorney who always makes sure all of his clients’ rights are protected – including in relation to civil forfeiture.  Call him today for a free consultation.

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