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

The government’s impulse to levy excessive penalties is not unique to forfeiture. In Ferguson, Missouri, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice[3] determined that “1ity officials have consistently set maximizing revenue as the priority for . . . law enforcement activity.” The roughly 3,000 residents of nearby Pagedale[4]—five miles south of Ferguson—have been heavily fined for trivial offenses like missing curtains, aging paint, walking on the left side of crosswalks, and enjoying a beer within 150 feet of a grill. And in Charlestown, Indiana[5], local officials imposed crippling fines on low-income homeowners to force them to sell their land to a private developer.

“Justice Clarence Thomas recently declared that it was time for the Court to once again look at the constitutionality of civil forfeiture statutes,” said IJ Senior Attorney Darpana Sheth, who heads the Institute for Justice’s initiative to end forfeiture abuse. “Timbsprovides the Court its first opportunity to reexamine this doctrine in over 20 years. This case will hopefully be one in a series of cases that the Court takes on to fundamentally reconsider the constitutionality of civil forfeiture.”

“This case will make constitutional history,” said Scott Bullock, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice. “Governments increasingly use excessive fines and fees, including through the pernicious practice of civil forfeiture, to fund law enforcement agencies and to pad city budgets. This is not just an ominous trend; it is a dangerous one.This case has the potential to give meaningful protection to individuals in every state in the land from these abuses and to limit government’s ability to turn law enforcement into revenue generators.”

Oral argument in Tyson’s case is expected to be scheduled for this winter, with a decision to be issued next year.

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