In a recent ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court determined the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines applies to the states and ruled in favor of Tyson Timbs, an Indiana resident who had his $42,000 Land Rover seized by police [Source: ABA Journal]. Timbs used the vehicle he purchased with insurance proceeds after his father’s death to sell heroin to undercover officers for $225. The criminal charges issued against Timbs carried a maximum fine of $10,000 and the State seized his Land Rover. Although Timbs pleaded guilty to the charges, he fought back against the civil forfeiture of his $42,000 Land Rover.
The ABA Journal highlighted that a trial judge had initially “agreed the car had been used to facilitate violation of a criminal statute, but barred the forfeiture because it would be grossly disproportionate the gravity of Timbs’ offense.” However, the Indiana Supreme Court allowed the state to proceed with the forfeiture “after noting that the U.S. Supreme Court had not applied the excessive fines clause to the states.” But Timbs wasn’t prepared to allow the state to take possession of his vehicle which carried a much higher value than the fines that he was required to pay.
Once the case made its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court held Timbs’ Eighth Amendment rights had been violated. The Eighth Amendment reads: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” [Source: Cornell Law School] Now, although the Excessive Fines Clause, which falls under the Eighth Amendment can be applied to civil forfeiture cases, “the amount of forfeiture must bear some relationship to the gravity of the offense that it is designed to punish.” Essentially, this means that the value of the property that is being seized must be similar to that of the degree of the offense that a defendant is found guilty of.
Although the Court is likely to consider “the character of the defendant” as well as “the harm caused by the offense” when determining if the value of the property being seized carries the same value of the crime that has been committed, in Timbs’ case, his $42,000 vehicle was worth far more than his penalties or even the maximum potential penalty.
After the decision, Timbs’ attorney stated, “Today’s ruling should go a long way to curtailing what is often called ‘policing for profit’—where police and prosecutors employ forfeiture to take someone’s property then sell it, and keep the profits to fund their departments. This gives them a direct financial incentive to abuse this power and impose excessive fines.” Sadly, many individuals often lose their valuable property to the state when accused or found guilty of a crime and never get it back as they aren’t aware of their rights and which laws protect them.
With that said, if you were recently charged with a crime in New Jersey and your property was seized, you are encouraged to contact Jersey City, NJ criminal defense attorney Eric M. Mark. Attorney Eric M. Mark can help determine if the forfeiture of property violates the Excessive Fines Clause and help you regain possession of it. In the event you were arrested and charged but didn’t have any property taken from you, you are also encouraged to contact our office as we can help fight your charges and potentially get them reduced. Although you may have been at the wrong place at the wrong time or engaged in some sort of criminal activity, you still have rights and we want to help you exercise them.
The Law Office of Eric M. Mark is located at:
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Newark, NJ 07102
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Jersey City, NJ 07302
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