The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday in Tyson Timbs v. Indiana, a case that centers on the incorporation of the excessive fines clause to the states.
Under the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed.” The Timbs case focuses on whether the excessive fines clause is incorporated into state law. The case specifically asks whether an excessive in rem asset forfeiture may constitute an excessive fine, and, if so, whether states are obligated to overturn such a forfeiture.
The petitioner, Tyson Timbs, was a small time drug addict who transported heroin in his Land Rover and unwittingly sold heroin to Indiana police. Timbs served a year of house arrest, five years of probation, and court ordered fees. The Land Rover, valued at about $42,000, was confiscated by the police because of its use in the commission of the crime. Timbs has brought his suit for the excessive confiscation of his Land Rover against the state of Indiana all the way to the Supreme Court
The court heard argument first on behalf of Timbs from Wesley Hottot of the Institute for Justice. Hottot’s argument centered around the 50+ years of precedent incorporating the Bill of Rights into state law. Hottot argues that such a seizure far exceeds the proscribed monetary fine. The court questioned whether the fine was inherently excessive. The Court did note that if they were to adopt Hottot’s position, the Excessive Fines clause might not apply to non-citizens.
The court then heard from Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher. The court questioned the Solicitor General on why arguments were still being presented on incorporation of the Bill of Rights where so many rights have been incorporated already. Fisher’s argument focused on the idea that the asset itself was involved in the crime so its seizure could not be said to have taken place against the individual. Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted an opinion from the late Justice Antonin Scalia that said “For the Eighth Amendment to limit cash fines while permitting—permitting limitless in-kind assessments would make little sense.”
The parties now await the court’s decision, which could have dramatic effect on state application of civil asset forfeiture.