The United States Supreme Court has finally taken steps to address the unconstitutional police practice of civil asset forfeiture being waged against citizens whether innocent and guilty. On Wednesday, the court unanimously ruled 9–0 after finding a ban of excessive fines, which is written into the 8th Amendment of the Constitution, applies to state and local authorities in their handling of a civilian private property — effectively limiting unjust police seizures across the nation.
The case, Timbs v. Indiana, focuses on a lawsuit Tyson Timbs filed against his state after pleading guilty to drug dealing and conspiracy to commit theft, which resulted in one year of home detention and five years of probation. This punishment, however, also resulted in unethical profits for both the state and police departments handling the investigation. After Timbs pleaded guilty, the Indiana court ordered the forfeiture of a Land Rover SUV which is valued at $42,000, according to estimates from The Washington Post. This car, reportedly paid through a family life insurance policy, costs over four times the maximum fine of $10,000 for charges of Timbs’ kind — thus making the seizure an unquestionably excessive fine.
The legal debate dissolved into whether states, like the federal government, are restricted from imposing excessive fines on their own citizens. The opposition was aligned with the belief of the Bill of Rights only applying at the federal level, suggesting state officials can simply override the accountability of the nation’s highest laws. This changed after the 14th Amendment extended their individual protections to prevent state overreach.
“The historical and logical case for concluding that the 14th Amendment incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause is overwhelming,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the majority decision. “For good reason, the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history: Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties and can be used, for example, to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies. Even absent a political motive, fines may be employed ‘in a measure out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence,’ for ‘fines are a source of revenue,’…