Supreme Court limits government's power to impose heavy fines and seize property



In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court decided Wednesday to drastically restrict the power of states and cities to levy fines and seize property. This is the first time the court has applied the constitutional prohibition of excessive fines at the state level.

Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who returned to court for the first time in nearly two months after undergoing a lung cancer operation, wrote the majority opinion in the case involving a man from Indiana whose Land Rover was seized after being arrested for selling 385 US dollars. heroin.

"Protection from excessive fines has been a constant shield in Anglo-American history for good reason: such fines undermine other freedoms," wrote Ginsburg. "They can be used, for example, to retaliate against speeches by the political enemy, and also be used, not for criminal purposes, but as a source of income."

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While the decision was unanimous, Clarence Thomas J. wrote a separate opinion setting out different reasons for reaching the same conclusion, namely that "the right not to incur excessive fines is one of the" Privileges or Immunities of United States Citizens "Protected by the Fourteenth Amendment." Ginsburg's opinion was based on the due process clause of the same amendment.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court remanded Tyson Timbs 'case to a trial court to determine whether Indiana officials were going too far in seizing Timbs' Land Rover. Timbs, who bought the Land Rover for $ 42,000 in January 2013, was arrested a few months later for selling heroin and pleaded guilty.

Timbs, sentenced to one year in house arrest and five years probation, says his vehicle confiscation was disproportionate to the $ 10,000 maximum fine he was sentenced for selling # 39; heroin.

The High Court's decision could now limit the ability of states and cities to voice what their detractors – on both sides of the political divide – see as an increasingly common practice of heavy fines and seizures. goods.

The Timbs legal team, at the Institute for Justice, has taken this decision against civil confiscation, a judicial procedure by which law enforcement officers are able to seize holdings of people suspected of being involved in a crime without charging their owners. with wrongdoing.

The same group has been focusing on similar issues for years. "I can not think of any other problem benefiting from such cross-cutting support," said Darpana Sheth, senior counsel at the Institute for Justice, in 2017.

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Meanwhile, the prohibition of excessive fines set out in the Constitution is inscribed in the Eighth Amendment and, although it originally applies only at the same time. At the federal level, since the 1960s the Supreme Court has incorporated many of these rights at the state level into the procedural compliance clause of the 14th.

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Since 2014, more than 20 states and Washington, DC have promulgated laws restricting confiscation or making the process more transparent.

New Mexico now requires a criminal conviction before seizing property, and the Florida police must prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that their property was related to a crime prior to seizure. Arizona has asked security forces to prove that property was used in a crime by a preponderance of evidence to obtain clear and convincing evidence, while Mississippi passed a law enacting a series of provisions aimed at bringing more transparency to practice.


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