By on February 12, 2019

1990 Land Rover Range Rover in Denver wrecking yard, grille badge - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Will the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause soon keep you safe from sticky-fingered state governments or local law enforcement? Right now, it doesn’t, but one man’s desire to get his hands on a seized SUV might change that.

If it rules in favor of an Indiana man seeking the return of his 2012 Land Rover LR2, the U.S. Supreme Court will extend this section of the amendment to the state level. Civil asset forfeiture could cease being as serious an issue as it is today.

First off, a hat tip to Chris Tonn, who, after peering through a crack in his venetian blinds, sent this Reason article my way. It details an upcoming ruling in the case of Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 vs. State of Indiana.

For a concise synopsis of Timbs’ legal quest, check out this piece in the Indianapolis Star. Basically, Timbs, a former drug user who became hooked after his pain medication ran out, sold $260 worth of heroin to undercover police officers. He pleaded guilty five years ago and served his sentence. Under Indiana law, Timbs’ crime warranted a fine of $10,000, yet police seized his 2012 LR2, bought with inheritance money, following his arrest.

The value of the SUV? $42,000. The cops say the vehicle was used in the commission of a crime (he was driving it at the time of his arrest), thus making it fair game for seizure, regardless of his crime’s maximum fine.

With his crime and its punishment in the rear-view, Timbs eventually sought the return of his Land Rover, taking his case to the Indiana Supreme Court. The court did not see eye to eye with Timbs, ruling that the protection against excessive fines spelled out in the Eighth Amendment doesn’t apply to states.

Undeterred, Timbs took his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court where, during oral arguments in November, Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher argued there is “effectively no seizure under asset forfeiture laws that would qualify as excessive,” Reason reports. That constitutionality would even cover the seizure of a car whose driver was nabbed driving 5 mph over the limit, he argued.

Timbs was not without his backers, though. In supporting Timbs, the Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. stated, “Unfortunately, and with increasing frequency, state and local legislatures are authorizing — and executive officials are seeking — excessive fines and forfeitures for relatively modest violations of the law by businesses and individuals.”

A coalition of mayors and Indiana state representatives argued Timbs did not commit a modest offence, and thus did not deserve leniency. Nor did they believe the seizure of an individual’s property counted as a “fine.”

With a ruling in the case looming, many anticipate new protections at the local and state level.

From Reason:

At least one lawsuit has already been filed in anticipation of the forthcoming ruling. In December, Detroit resident Crystal Sisson filed a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit challenging the aggressive asset forfeiture program in Wayne County, Michigan.

Sheriff’s deputies pulled over Sisson after they surveilled her entering a Detroit medical marijuana dispensary. After allegedly finding her with $10 worth of pot and discovering that she did not have a medical marijuana card, the deputies issued her a criminal citation and seized her 2015 Kia Soul.

Sisson had to pay the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office $1,200 to avoid having her car forfeited; her suit now argues that the forfeiture and the fine were excessive under the Eighth Amendment. Whether the Supreme Court will also define what constitutes an “excessive” fine remains to be seen.

[Image: ©2017 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]

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51 Comments on “A U.S. Supreme Court Ruling to Watch Out For...”

  • avatar
    Eric the Red

    I am no bleeding heart but I have long looked at the creep of civil forfeitures with a deep suspicion of abuse. I have spoke with police Officials that think it is great and have examples of how it is beating down the criminals. BUT if a small percentage of innocent people or even people with minor offenses have their property taken then the law is wrong. We are a society of law and the standard of “innocent until proven guilty” is being completely ignored with this process. And lets not forget that even if our local police may act fairly and only use it against drug pushers and criminals there will be police departments elsewhere that will abuse it and thereby abuse people. We have all heard about speedtrap municipalities, and maybe been abused by, that fund themselves by issuing ridiculous entrapment tickets and this is just a larger type of that program. This program gives an open checkbook to departments to take property at their own discretion. This is NOT a good thing when you have to spend your own time and money to prove yourself innocent just to get your own property back.

    • 0 avatar

      I think it’s stupid how several states such as Florida sieze motorcycles for doing wheelies on public roads. Yes it’s dumb and most people can’t control the bike on one wheel anyway but who’s really in danger?

      Same can’t really be said if a dump truck was doing a wheelie at a busy intersection but I think siezing someone’s property is a bit excessive.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        “but who’s really in danger?”

        The mom pushing the stroller on the sidewalk.

      • 0 avatar

        Yep, nobody could possibly be hurt by having an out-of-control 4-500lb motorcycle land on them. How silly to think you’d even feel such a minor scratch. And, how could such a distraction possibly affect traffic around them? I mean, a radio can cause a head-on collision, but a motorcycle doing stunts next to you would hardly be noticed.

    • 0 avatar

      civil forfeiture has been the biggest driver in my mind to favor legalization and regulation of all drugs. I do not get filled with pride when I see a Cadillac Escalade being driven by my local sheriff’s office with the text “provided by your local drug dealer” on the side. This is state sponsored theft, and for those who wonder why police are having a PR problem right now, Civil Forfeiture is in the top 5 reasons for that. It largely just serves to seize assets from the poor. I don’t see any of El Chapo’s assets being used by a local PD, its the guy that sold weed on the block and made 50k a year doing so.

  • avatar

    I don’t know about the other case, but have to side with Ms. Sisson in her dispute. It seems excessive to lose one’s Soul over a couple ounces of weed.

    I’m looking forward to hearing that her lawyer demands a fiddle of gold as compensation for her loss.

    • 0 avatar

      I ageee with your point, but…

      I dont know where you can buy “a couple of ounces” for $10, but, um, I need their number. Lol j/k

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      Nice Charlie Daniels reference. But I’m still trying to get my mind around losing a car over $10 of weed. What is that? Two joints?

      And how in the hell could the Indiana Supreme Court find that the Eighth Amendment “doesn’t apply to states”? The whole point of the Bill of Rights is that it applies to any government within the United States. Reread the Ninth and Tenth Amendments – carefully – if you disagree.

      • 0 avatar

        Not so much the 9th and 10th as the 14th, specifically the “privileges and immunities” clause. Think of it as the franchise rules for being part of the USA.

      • 0 avatar

        The Bill of Rights does not apply directly to the states, but most parts of it do through the doctrine of incorporation (mostly through the 14th Amendment). Forget reading the 9th & 10th, read the only opinions that matter – the Supreme Court’s.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s getting to the point that the otherwise beautiful state Of Indiana is replacing the redneck South as a place you don’t want to even fly over, nevermind move to and raise a family. Since when does the Eighth Amendment not offer the same protections in Indiana that it does in California and New York? Since when does an individual state cherrypick what part of the US constitution applies to its residents and tourists? And the mayors association was onboard with the Indiana Supreme Court decision? That makes sense- let’s hold up on hiking taxes, we’ll just periodically rob people in our state without due process to make up the difference. Sorry, Indiana friends- let’s meet in Chicago for a drink, but a meetup in Indianapolis is out of the question.

    • 0 avatar

      If the vehicle were used as a getaway car for a crime, seize it. If it was incidental to the crime they should have no basis to seize it.

  • avatar

    Plenty of cases where cop make a traffic stop, find cash and just seize it, making the people prove it wasn’t being used for some bad purpose. The problem with civil forfeiture is that there is direct profit motive for the police – anything they take they keep, unless the person goes through the arduous process of proving their innocence. Many a police department’s budget is being padded with civil forfeitures.

    • 0 avatar

      Imagine being on your way to buy a project car for a few thousand bucks, getting pulled over for 4mph over the limit, and having all that money stolen from you by an overzealous cop. It’d be hard not to use lethal force to defend yourself.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. As someone who regularly pays cash for vehicles, often going a decent distance to get what I want (drove about 150 miles to buy my Sonoma this past summer/fall), and who occasionally sells vehicles for cash (like I did my Nissan Altima a few months ago), that is a very real possibility.

        Cue the obtuse “well dont break the law and you dont have to worry” comments, because they’ve never driven over the speed limit by any amount at any time, did a “rolling stop” at a deserted stop sign, or accidentally crossed a painted line.

        • 0 avatar

          Or even if you should have a mechanical failure like a headlight bulb goes out on your way; any of us could change that out in a heartbeat but not before going to the parts store.

  • avatar

    Police state USA.

    • 0 avatar

      I tend to agree, 28. Asset forfeiture, along with Eminent Domain property confiscation done “for the greater benefit of the community”, are ways local/state/federal governments are able to bypass that pesky old yellowed piece of paper called the Constitution…

    • 0 avatar

      You got the order wrong – it is State Police. USA does not police force.

      • 0 avatar

        How about just calling them “highwaymen”? Because that’s exactly how they behave when it comes to asset forfeitures.

      • 0 avatar

        “You got the order wrong – it is State Police. USA does not police force.”

        I’ll keep that in mind next time the ATF or FBI knocks on my door. There’s also ICE, the Secret Service, military criminal investigative services, DEA, Federal Air Marshalls, Border Patrol, and certainly a few I’m forgetting involving forests, parks, Indian Affairs, etc…

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Not trying to rile up the right-wing, chafed-buttocks types; but has the ACLU or SPLC gotten involved in any of these cases or cases like this?

  • avatar

    You forgot, illegal Alians, Gays, Feminism, Terrorists and so many other cause celebre.

  • avatar

    If only we all agreed the constitution is important and literal. Local kleptocracies wouldn’t dare.

  • avatar
    Bill Zardus

    I suspect, at some point, President Blowhard is going to begin whining about the
    state confiscating the property of criminals. But he wont worry about it until the day it affects him.

    I’m pretty sure, he thought he would be able to hide his tax returns forever and now he probably wishes he had never run for office. And his useless kids are probably going to be forced to forfeit a lot of inherited property too.


  • avatar

    Civil asset forfeiture is government theft, pure and simple. No due process, the opposite of Innocent until proven guilty.

    Policing should not be a for profit business…..

  • avatar

    You’ll have to prise my Land Rover our if my cold dead hands! A lot of Land Rover owners are like this!

  • avatar

    A 2012 Land Rover Freelander for $42,000 ?

    How about we all run up huge fines and pay for them with old land rovers?

  • avatar

    “Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher argued there is “effectively no seizure under asset forfeiture laws that would qualify as excessive,” Reason reports.”

    Hell! Let’s sieze VW! We could sell it off and fund police departments for years!

    The police should never be used to gain revenue. If they sieze anything, it should have to go to public auction. They shouldn’t be allowed to sieze property without convicting the property owner of a crime. Police should get their funding through (don’t get your underpants in a knot) taxes. Government costs money, and pretending we can get rid of taxes and fund it on the backs of minor criminals is idiocy. Read the DoJ report on Ferguson, MO. The city forced the police department to fund itself by robbing the poor. It wasn’t a question of why people rioted, it was a question of why they waited so long.

  • avatar

    When this first became policy years ago, I thought it sounded like a good idea.
    Apparently it has long since morphed into an unregulated, Wild West cash-grab.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’m thinking this a rare one off win for the PoPo,I’d imagine most druggies drive 12 year old Altimas or Cobalts.

  • avatar

    “A coalition of mayors and Indiana state representatives argued Timbs did not commit a modest offence, and thus did not deserve leniency. Nor did they believe the seizure of an individual’s property counted as a ‘fine.’”

    Are you kidding me?!? They need a serious b!tch slapping from SCOTUS.

  • avatar

    ‘They need a serious b!tch slapping from SCOTUS.”

    You’re right, they do. And this is where the TV show of the Kavanaugh hearings merges with the reality of our actual rights and daily lives. When Mitch & Co. install judges who represent monied interests rather than the Constitutional rights of citizens, these cases go up through the courts and then your rights are not defended.

    This is why elections matter.

  • avatar

    Corruption runs deep and wide in the US. Is it any wonder that increasing numbers of citizens are choosing to live outside the US so as to be away from the corruption. Corrupt cops and prosecutors can railroad anyone into jail and seize their property. I would like to see cops and prosecutors be liable for their crimes and have to serve time like the people they screw over.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I’m going to need a scorecard to see which amendments apply to states and which don’t. Abortion and Gay marriage, which I believe are quantified under the 14th do (relax, I’m not taking a side, just pointing out that the court has in fact told states they can’t muck with those). The Second Amendment is a mixed bag though I think some clarity is forthcoming.

    Honestly I don’t know why this is an issue…the government shouldn’t be able to take your stuff. All the “what if” is silly. If it is that serious charge them and if found guilty, incarcerate them. That costs money though. I’m cool with that, it should be a serious thing to take someone’s freedom.

    • 0 avatar

      And don’t forget, some amendments only apply to certain states, but not others. The 3rd Amendment, for example, is held against states withing the Second Circuit. But given that the Supreme Court has never ruled on the issue, it’s still up in the air everywhere else.

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