Constitutional Battle Ends With Supreme Court Ruling in Land Rover Owner's Favor

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
constitutional battle ends with supreme court ruling in land rover owners favor

You can’t fight city hall, the saying goes, but you apparently can fight the state of Indiana in the U.S. Supreme Court and win. That’s what former addict Tyson Timbs learned today, after the Court returned a unanimous decision that overturned a ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court.

It seems the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause does apply to individual states. The fight that began over a seized $42,000 Land Rover led to a victory for those fearing financial ruin from sky-high fees, fines, and asset seizures.

For a backgrounder on the case, read this. Basically, former heroin addict Timbs, while driving a new 2012 Land Rover LR2 purchased with inheritance money, sold smack to some undercover cops, soon finding himself behind bars. While Timbs served his sentenced and paid his fines, the state kept his seized vehicle, despite it being worth more than four times the maximum fine for his crime at the time of purchase.

Both a trial court and appeals court found the seizure to be excessive, but the Indiana Supreme Court ruled it wasn’t, claiming the Excessive Fines Clause only applied to action taken by the feds, not state impositions. Wednesday’s decision by the Supreme Court incorporates the clause to the states.

The ruling should please the American Civil Liberties Union, which submitted a brief in support of Timbs. The group, reports CNBC, stated that an “explosion of fines, fees, and forfeitures has buried people under mountains of accumulating debt” and can lead to far-ranging ramifications, including “wage garnishment, loss of employment and housing, poor credit ratings, driver’s license suspension, incarceration, prohibitions on the right to vote, and even family separation.”

Civil asset forfeiture can take cash, cars, and homes out of the hands of owners following the laying of a charge, and getting those assets back is often a pipe dream. Seized assets and lofty fines can, and have, become a sizeable revenue source for cities. As such, today’s ruling is a both threat to municipal coffers and a key piece of legal ammo handed to those who feel they’ve been wronged.

The Court’s opinion, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, can be read here.

“The Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is an incorporated protection applicable to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause,” she wrote, adding there was “no daylight between the federal and state conduct it

prohibits or requires.”

“Protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history for good reason: Such fines undermine other liberties,” Ginsburg wrote. “They can be used, e.g., to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies. They can also be employed, not in service of penal purposes, but as a source of revenue.”

[Image: Jaguar Land Rover]

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