Supreme Court Will Hear Case on Whether The 50 States Must Comply with U.S. Constitution’s Excessive Fines Clause

Then the Indiana Supreme Court stepped in. Breaking with at least 14 other state high courts, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment provides no protection at all against fines and forfeitures imposed by the states. Until the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, the Indiana Supreme Court said, “We will not impose federal obligations on the State that the federal government itself has not mandated.”

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review that decision.

“This case is about more than just a truck,” said Wesley Hottot, an attorney with the Institute for Justice. “The Excessive Fines Clause is a critical check on the government’s power to punish people and take their property. Without it, state and local law enforcement could confiscate everything a person owns based on a minor crime or—using civil forfeiture—no crime at all.”

“I’m thrilled the Supreme Court will be addressing this important issue,” said Tyson Timbs. “I committed a crime, then I did my time and cleaned up my life. But with forfeiture, they are trying to take away one of the few things I own—that I bought with money from my dad. Forfeiture only makes it more challenging for people in my position to clean up and become contributing members of society.”

Constitutional protections against excessive fines have never been more important than they are today. In the words of one Indiana Supreme Court justice[2], law enforcement is increasingly using “Weapons of Mass Destruction” against low-level criminal offenders, financially vulnerable property owners and even innocent people.

“Forfeiture is a controversial law enforcement tool. In states like Indiana, police and prosecutors can keep up to 100 percent of proceeds taken through forfeiture, proceeds they can then use for nicer offices and vehicles, and even for their own pay,” said IJ Attorney Sam Gedge. “This direct financial incentive gives the government a perverse incentive to abuse this power, which is exactly what is happening in Tyson’s case with this excessive fine. Police and prosecutors have every incentive to maximize their own profit, and, unless we have federal protections against excessive fines, no one’s property is safe.”

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