The US Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on Wednesday, November 28, in a dispute that may determine whether the 8th amendment to the US Constitution bars states from imposing ‘excessive fines’ and forfeitures, a dispute that is important to the ‘war on drugs’ at the state level, where property forfeitures, often quite draconian forfeitures, have become routine.
The Bill of Rights was originally designed and intended to limit the authority of the federal government, not the states. Thus, for example, the first amendment begins with the word “Congress,” and contains no parallel reference to state legislatures.
But for almost a century now (since 1925) a string of Supreme Court decisions has held various clauses of the Bill of Rights applicable to the states. Most, though not quite all, of the clauses have now been “incorporated” by such decisions.
The Thing to Know:
Tyson Timbs sold heroin to an undercover police officer in Indiana in 2015. He was sentenced to one year of home detention, to be followed by five years on probation. Also, he was ordered to forfeit his 2012 Land Rover, which he had bought for approximately $42,000 with the payout of his father’s life insurance policy. The value of the car is roughly four times the maximum monetary fine the state can impose, and Timbs’ attorneys want to argue that the seizure thereof is “grossly disproportionate to the gravity” of the crime.
But first they have to persuade the high court that the 8th amendment’s language applies to actions of Indiana.