US Supreme Court strengthens prohibition of "excessive fines" imposed by Constitution

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a decision likely to curb the increase in pecuniary sanctions and seizures of property in the US criminal justice system, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the ban on "excessive fines" in the United States applied to states as well as the federal government.

The nine judges unanimously ruled in favor of an Indiana man, Tyson Timbs, who had claimed that the police had violated his rights by seizing his $ 42,000 Land Rover vehicle. , after being found guilty of heroin dealer.

Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, back on the bench for a second day in a row following a lung cancer surgery in December, wrote the court's opinion clarifying the applicability of the prohibition on "excessive fines" contained in the eighth amendment of the Constitution.

"For good reason, protection from excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history. Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional freedoms, "Ginsburg told the court at the time of the announcement.

The vehicle was stolen as part of a process called confiscation of civilian assets, which allows the police to seize and keep property involved in a crime.

"The Supreme Court has rightly recognized that the Excessive Fine Clause is an essential control of the government's power to punish people and strip them of their property," said Sam Gedge, a lawyer at the Institute for Justice. , a libertarian legal group that represents Timbs.

Civil liberty activists have criticized the increased use of fines and other sanctions in the federal and state criminal justice systems over the last three decades. Organizations from across the ideological spectrum supported Timbs, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the US Chamber of Commerce business group.


"The clause of excessive fines is now clearly considered a guarantee when state and local courts and police consider people as dollar signs," said ACLU attorney Nusrat Choudhury.

US Senator Kamala Harris of California, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential election, wrote on Twitter: "Like our broken cash bond system, excessive fines and confiscation of property lead to the criminalization of poverty. ".

The case will now be referred to the courts of Indiana to determine if the seizure was excessive.

"Although we have argued for a different outcome, we respect the court's decision," said Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill in a statement.

Timbs pleaded guilty in 2015 to a chief of controlled substance trafficking and a conspiracy charge to commit a robbery after selling four grams of heroin to plainclothes police for $ 385 to Marion in the US. Indiana, in two separate transactions two years ago, according to legal documents.

He was sentenced to one year of house arrest and five years of probation. Authorities seized his 2012 Land Rover LR2 SUV, which he had used to buy, transport and sell drugs. This decision means that Timbs now has a chance to recover his Land Rover.

The eighth amendment is part of the Charter of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution that were ratified in 1791 as guarantees of individual rights and restrictions of governmental power.

The Supreme Court ruled that various parts of the bill of rights apply to states, not just the federal government, including the prohibition of the eighth amendment dealing with cruel and unusual punishment. In a 2010 decision on gun rights, he ruled that the second amendment's right to "keep and bear arms" applies to states.

FILE PHOTO: People gather on the square in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, United States, March 28, 2018. REUTERS / Joshua Roberts / File Photo

Timbs, who admitted to being an addict, bought the Land Rover in 2013 with money that he had got from a life insurance policy following the death of his son. Father.

Timbs argued that the seizure of his vehicle was an excessive fine, since he had only dealt with drugs twice, had been convicted of one drug-related offense and the maximum fine for the offense was $ 10,000, much less than the value of the vehicle.

Timbs appealed to the US Supreme Court after the Indiana Supreme Court, in 2017, overturned the decision of the Indiana State Judge in 2015 in his favor .

Lawrence Hurley report; Edited by Will Dunham

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