Justices to Decide if States Can Impose ‘Excessive Fines’

(CN) – In a case involving Indiana’s forfeiture of a Land Rover used to move drugs, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines applies to state governments.

After his father died, Tyson Timbs used life insurance money to buy a Land Rover in 2013. He then used the vehicle to buy and transport heroin between Marion and Richmond, Indiana, according to court records.

Police learned of the trafficking and set up a sting operation. An informant and undercover detective bought two grams of heroin from Timbs on two separate occasions.

Timbs was apprehended on the day that a third controlled buy was planned. His Land Rover had more than 17,000 miles on it, compared to just 1,237 miles when he bought it four months earlier.

He was charged with dealing in a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit theft, both felonies. Timbs reached a plea deal and was sentenced to six years, with one year in confinement and five years suspended to probation.

Indiana also sought to seize Timbs’ Land Rover. The trial court denied the state’s forfeiture action, finding that it would constitute an excessive fine under the Eighth Amendment because it was “grossly disproportional to the gravity of the defendant’s offense.”

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the decision ordering the state to release the Land Rover, but the state’s high court reversed last November, finding that the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause does not prevent Indiana from seizing the vehicle because the U.S. Supreme Court has not held that the clause applies to states via the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, excessive bail and excessive fines.

Timbs appealed to the nation’s highest court, writing in a petition for a writ of certiorari filed in January that the Indiana Supreme Court adopted a “minority view.”

“Although two circuits and at least 14 state high courts apply the excessive fines clause to the states, a minority of courts—in Montana, Mississippi, Michigan, and now Indiana—believe that the clause does not apply,” the petition states. “As a result, petitioner Tyson Timbs—along with the 6.6 million residents of Indiana and more than 13 million residents of the three other minority jurisdictions –enjoys Eighth Amendment protection against fines and forfeitures imposed by the federal government but not against those imposed by state and local authorities.”

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up the case and decide whether the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause “is incorporated against all 50 states.”

Per their custom, the justices did not comment on their decision to hear the appeal.

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