Supreme Court says constitutional protection against excessive fines applies to state actions

Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg in November. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Wednesday that the prohibition of excessive fines provided by the Constitution applies to states and local governments, limiting their ability to impose fines and seize property.

Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on her second day back on the bench after being operated on for cancer in December, announced the court's decision, stating that the clause of excessive fines in the eighth amendment protected against government reprisals.

"For good reasons, protection from excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history: exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional freedoms," wrote Ginsburg. "Excessive fines can be used, for example, to retaliate against the speeches of their political enemies or to cool them down. . . . Even in the absence of a political motive, fines may be used to an extent inconsistent with the penal objectives of retribution and deterrence. "

The court ruled in favor of Tyson Timbs of Marion, Indonesia, who seized his $ 42,000 Land Rover, after arresting him for selling heroin to around a hundred of dollars.

He has garnered support from civil liberties organizations who wish to limit civil forfeiture, which they say would empower local communities and law enforcement agencies to seize the property of a person suspected of being in danger. A crime as a source of income.

Some judges have also worried about the state and local efforts.

Judge Clarence Thomas wrote in a recent opinion that civil forfeitures have "become very widespread and very profitable".

"This system – where the police can seize assets with limited judicial control and keep them for their own use – has led to blatant and well-documented abuses," Thomas wrote, citing Washington Post and New Yorker reports.

During argument, counsel for Timbs stated that the case was a simple matter of "maintenance of the Constitution".

The Charter of Constitutional Rights protects actions of the federal government. But over time, the Supreme Court applied it to states and local governments under the 14th Amendment's due process clause. In 2010, for example, the court ruled that the Second Amendment applies to state and local laws on gun control.

The eighth amendment states: "No excessive bail will be required, no excessive fine will be imposed, no cruel and unusual punishment will be imposed. But until now, the prohibition of excessive fines has not been.

And the Indiana Supreme Court noted that when it overturned the decision of a lower court, the actions against the Timbs were excessive.

Ginsburg's notice makes it clear that the clause applies and that it is "incorporated" within the meaning of the 14th Amendment's due process clause. Judges Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch concurred in the result, but stated that they would have relied on another part of the 14th amendment.

The case is Timbs v. Indiana.

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