Timbs v. Indiana [SCOTUSbrief]
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Timbs v. Indiana [SCOTUSbrief]


The issue in Timbs versus Indiana is the incorporation
of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Actually, a particular clause of the Eighth Amendment
that prohibits excessive fines. Mr. Timbs was convicted of several drug crimes
in Indiana. Under Indiana state law, the absolute maximum
he could have been penalized for all these crimes is about $10,000. However, using civil asset forfeiture, law
enforcement in the state of Indiana seized his pickup truck, which is worth $40,000, because
they argued that the drugs he was transporting, he was transporting in the truck itself. The incorporation doctrine argues that all
of these fundamental rights which cannot be violated by the federal government also cannot
be violated by state governments. So it’s true that the folks in Washington,
DC can’t do things that unreasonably violate your First Amendment right, your Second Amendment
right, your Fourth Amendment right, but it’s also true that the folks in Sacramento or
Austin or Albany can’t do this either. The extent of incorporation is unclear however,
because rather than simply incorporating all of the amendments, the Supreme Court has in
piecemeal fashion incorporated them amendment by amendment, sometimes clause by clause in
each amendment. In fact, that’s what we are dealing with here. Certain parts of the Eighth Amendment have
been incorporated, such as the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, certain
parts have not been, such as the prohibition against excessive fines. This is a doctrine that the Supreme Court
has developed over time, and in fact there are still people to this day who wonder whether
or not incorporation itself is a misreading of the Fourteenth Amendment and none of these
rights should be read against the state capitals. I think that the more significant debates
are not about whether or not incorporation is legitimate, but about how to incorporate. So the most obvious way to incorporate an
amendment to the Constitution is through the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. You would argue that there are certain rights
that are fundamental to American history and that as a matter of due process, those rights
must be respected by the federal government, but they also must be respected by the state
governments. There’s an alternative argument though that
says under the privileges and immunities clause, there are certain privileges or certain immunities
that you have as an American and because you have them as an American, they extend from
state to state. They also extend from the federal jurisdiction
to any state jurisdiction. The best argument for Mr. Timbs is that when
you can be punished at most by a $10,000 fine to effectively be punished with a $40,000
penalty is simply disproportionate and violates the Eighth Amendment and the Eighth Amendment
is incorporated just like all the other amendments are. There must be some kind of limit on what the
government can seize through asset forfeiture. In this case, his truck is worth four times
the amount of what he could have been punished with given the underlying crime, but it could
have been worth even more. It didn’t have to be a truck, it could have
been a yacht. It could have been an airplane. It could have been any number of things. Mr. Timbs is arguing that there must be some
limiting principle. The best argument for the state of Indiana
is that the thing that the Eighth Amendment prohibition against excessive fines
is contemplating is literally excessive fines Not asset forfeiture, which is actually a
law enforcement technique rather than some kind of a criminal penalty. The Supreme Court has dealt with civil asset
forfeiture in the past and has said that it’s not unconstitutional. It’s something that law enforcement is engaged
in as part pf protecting public safety in the community. We don’t want criminals to be able to profit
from their ill-gotten gains. So we empower law enforcement to take those
ill-gotten gains from them. They’re arguing that an actual fine or fee
imposed by the state of Indiana is the kind of thing that’s subject to the Eighth Amendment,
but a law enforcement tactic like civil asset forfeiture is not the kind of thing that’s
contemplated by the amendment and therefore, it’s not incorporated. The fundamental question in this case is whether
or not there are any restrictions on the kinds of criminal financial penalties that state
governments can levy against their citizens. And in the course of answering that very important
question, The Supreme Court is also going to clarify a number of things about the constitutionality
of the practice of civil asset forfeiture in the United States.

15 Comments

  • Michael Hill

    Timbs is right on this and hopefully, CAF as a whole is struck down. Gorsuch in the hearing this morning said it best, "Are we still litigating the incorporation of the Bill of Rights in 2018? Really?" I also think it's showing also that Gorsuch and Sotomayor are building a friendship in the same vein as RBG and Scalia and an ideological alliance on many questions of liberty as well.

  • 03DM M240

    I teach poly sic and history at a four year liberal arts university and I love all the material the Federalist Society puts out. Use it in my classes all the time, thank you!

  • Merle Patterson

    The current asset forfeiture laws are like saying that (for instance) if Jeff Bezos was found to have used Amazon Web Services in the 'intended' commission of a felony crime, since his 'vehicle' was AWS itself, it can be taken via asset forfeiture as a fundamental instrument for the facilitation of said crime. Since corporations are now held out as 'people' under the '#CitizensUnited' ruling for purposes of 'Constitutional' speech, they should be treated as people for the purposes of mental evaluation, ethics and criminality as well. As all 'people' are. Therefore, asset forfeiture should be on the table as much as anyone else who has had their property taken unjustly via 8th Amendment and due process violations.

  • Mary Loretta

    Indiana pretty place to live and raise young children if you homeschool them. Indiana is a very racist state, run by the good old boys system. Thankful I moved to a state where the police dept is to busy to look for ways to incarcerate regular folks minding their buisness.

  • Kenneth H

    I think the fundamental question becomes, Is law enforcement a extension of the court or not? If not, then where does law enforcement derive thier power to enforce the law? Is not Theft the tactic of a thief?

  • Brent Hunter

    It is a law enforcement tactic, they take whatever they want, and you have to sue them to get it back if you are aquitted or even if the prosecutor decides not to go through with charging you. Civil court doesn't require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, so the d.a. always gets to keep and sell your sstuff. This does not keep us safe. I'm not sure why you even said that. It makes literally no sense.

  • HH James

    The Federalist Society is a bunch of deep state right wing SOB's. You are a disgrace to the Founders. Madison would be appalled.

  • roy west

    Forfeiture is a made up way of policing for profit and is unconstitutional. The supreme court should have ended it once and for all instead of limiting it. The police can still use it-shame on the supreme court.

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