SCOTUS Strikes Unanimous Blow to Civil Asset Forfeiture

The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck a unanimous blow to aggressive civil forfeiture tactics, ruling that the federal prohibition against excessive fines applies on a state level. The case in question was Timbs v. Indiana, in which Tyson Timbs pleaded guilty in Indiana state court to dealing in a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit theft. When Timbs was arrested, cops seized his $42,000 Land Rover. The state later pursued civil forfeiture of the SUV, arguing that Timbs had used the car to transport heroin. A trial court rejected the state’s claim, arguing the cost of the SUV was more than four times the maximum fine imposed for his drug conviction, which would violate the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. The state appealed, arguing that the Clause only applies to federal actions, and the case eventually reached the Supreme Court.

The court’s 9-0 ruling was authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “The Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is an incorporated protection applicable to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause,” Ginsburg wrote, later adding that “Protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history for good reason: Such fines undermine other liberties [...] The historical and logical case for concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause is indeed overwhelming.”