SCOTUS rules agaisnt asset forfeiture


  • No. But this could be great news.
  • dgmdgm
    edited November 2019

    So, SCOTUS decided unanimously in Timbs v Indiana, back in Feb, that the 8th amendment is incorporated against the states. They then sent the case back down to the Indiana Supreme Court. The Indiana court has rendered a decision about how to determine what constitutes an excessive fine.

    The opinion is very approachable for a layperson, if a bit long for the Twitter generation to read.

    The Indiana supreme court analyzes the situation based on a two part test of Instrumentality and Proportionality. I.e. was the property the actual means by which a crime was committed, and was the seizure, as applied in THAT case, proportional.

    The court then goes on to create a framework for testing the proportionality of a fine, and remands the matter back to the trial court, for them to perform the proportionality analysis on the facts of the specific case.

    So, the statement that SCOTUS ruled against asset forfeiture is overblown.

    The matter is not yet concluded, at least for Timbs, whose $42k Land Rover was stolen by the state because he used it to drive to a place to buy drugs once.

    What this ultimately means is that states may no longer simply say "you used X in a crime, so now it's ours." At least, Indiana can't. I don't know upon what other courts the Indiana Supreme Court's decision (creating the proportionality framework) would be considered any sort of binding precedent.

    But overall, the SCOTUS decision should make it easier for injured parties to pursue similar cases against their own states, because the SCOTUS ruling at least incorporates the 8th amendment and its excessive fines clause against the states. How each state's courts will rule on this is a big question in my mind.
  • edited November 2019
    dgm said:


    I find it hard to be very excited about this. The 8th Am. protections are incorporated. OK. The 8th Am. seems to have been no great impediment in federal forfeitures. How does this change much at the state level?  I suppose a bright line rule that the state can't take more than $10,000 of your stuff for an act that carries a $10,000 maximum fine would be nice, but then you'll likely see fines increased.

    Timbs may not be an ideal test case.  The Rover is alleged to have been used by him almost exclusively in the buying and selling of heroin.

    I first became aware of asset forteiture in the 1980s as it pertained to zero tolerance drug prosecutions.  The idea was that no one would risk the unfairness of forteiture by letting people use on his boat.  To me this looks like proof of the principle that good intentions aside, any power granted will be misused.  Where LE and prosecutors target people for what an agency can take, and the total of the forfeitures they've gotten are featured in their resumes, the misuse appears to dominate and their is little remaining utility.
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