JERSEY CITY and NEWARK, New Jersey. Imagine losing your $42,000 car for selling what amounted to $400 dollars in drugs. Or, imagine failing to pay an $8 property tax bill and losing your whole home. Some states have been taking extreme steps in fining individuals who have been convicted of crimes. It is common practice for states and the federal government to seize assets that have been used in a crime. However, when it comes to seizing assets, how much should the government be permitted to take? Is asset seizure currently proportionate to the crimes committed?
According to USA Today, the Supreme Court will hear a case to determine whether the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive fines should be honored by state laws. The case could have immense implications for individuals facing criminal convictions and the loss of property or assets due to government seizure.
State and local governments have an incentive to seize property because it uses the money to pay for services. According to the ACLU, in 100 cities, seized property makes up anywhere from 7 to 30 percent of local revenue. Seizure of property makes it easier for municipalities to keep the lights on without having to impose unpopular taxes. However, if seizure pays the bills, there’s the increased risk that officials have a conflict of interest when it comes to determining whether property should or should not be seized. In some cases, the seizure of the property appears to be disproportionate when compared with the crime.
Critics of the seizure policies claim that they lead to the further impoverishment of low-income individuals who have been charged with minor crimes. When you combine the consequences of seizure with the reality that minority and low income communities tend to be the target of increased policing, it becomes clear that asset seizure can be a tool that places an extreme financial burden on poor families.
According to ABA Journal, some experts believe that seizure and high fines put convicted offenders in a cycle of poverty they cannot escape. One professor of law called it the “modern debtors’ prison.”
The fact that asset seizure is also subject to little oversight, means that there is always the risk that cash-hungry municipalities might abuse the practice to increase revenue.
Other Supreme Court cases have held that two other provisions of the amendment should apply to the states: the bar against cruel and unusual punishment and the prohibition of excessive bail. Will the Supreme Court extend the third provision to require states to abide by the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines? Only time will tell.
If you are facing the loss of your property or high fines due to a crime you have been charged with, consider reaching out to the criminal defense lawyers at the Law Office of Eric M. Mark in Newark and Jersey City, New Jersey today. Our firm is closely watching how the Supreme Court case unfolds, but often the best way to avoid the consequences of seizure is to avoid conviction in the first place. The Law Office of Eric M. Mark is a drug possession and criminal defense lawyer who fights for the rights of clients to the fullest extent under the law. If you have questions about your rights and options, reach out to Eric M. Mark today.
Address: 201 Washington St.
Newark, NJ 07102
Phone: (973) 453-2009
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121 Newark Ave., Suite 515
Jersey City, NJ 07302
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