Tyson Timbs' complaint against Indiana regarding the seizure of his Land Rover was referred to the Supreme Court. (Photo11: Jenna Watson, AP)
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled that state governments could not impose excessive court fees, fines and forfeitures as a means of raising funds.
The decision, which united the Conservatives and the liberals of the court, makes it clear that the prohibition of the "eighth amendment" to impose "excessive fines" applies to states.
Deputy Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has just returned from lung cancer surgery, drafted the majority opinion of the court and announced it at the helm.
It was a victory for Tyson Timbs, who had sold less than $ 400 worth of heroin to plainclothes police officers in 2013. If convicted, Indiana seized his Land Rover, which he had purchased for more than $ 42,000.
Liberals and libertarians have protested for years against what they see as increasingly greedy governments. A study by Harvard University and the National Institute of Justice revealed that about 10 million people owe more than $ 50 billion as a result of fines, fees, and forfeitures.
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Many of the fines and forfeitures are ultimately challenged and reduced. But the court's decision could reduce their taxation in the first place.
State and local governments are increasingly using funds raised in criminal and civil cases to pay for municipal services. The 100 cities that recorded the highest proportion of revenue from fines and fees in 2012 thus funded between 7% and 30% of their budget, according to the Americal Civil Liberties Union.
This practice often leads low-income accused to poverty, crime, prison and recidivism, argued the liberal arguments of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the libertarian Cato Institute. The American Bar Association noted that nearly two-thirds of prisoners were unlikely to pay fines and fees after their release.
The conviction of Timbs resulted in one year house arrest, five years probation and approximately $ 1,200 in fees. But it was the seizure of his SUV, bought with the proceeds of life insurance after his father's death, which led to the lawsuit. The 2012 Land Rover LR2 is even a named plaintiff.
The seizure was defended by several national municipal groups. They argued in court documents that the vehicle was being used for heroin trafficking, which could have generated significant profits, and that his confiscation had properly left Timbs without the vehicle he needed to his job.
The case has reached the Supreme Court by the highest court of Indiana, which had ruled that the clause of excessive fines did not apply to states. This represents the last effort to determine which parts of the Bill of Rights apply to states.
Most rights, such as the right of the Second Amendment to bear arms to defend oneself, have been extended. But others, such as the right to a unanimous verdict of the jury under the Sixth Amendment, do not have it.
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