Civil Rights

Supreme Court unanimously rules against excessive fines

Supreme Court

A recent ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States determined that excessive fines could not be imposed by state and local governments. The unanimous decision affirms the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment, which states that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The decision marks a significant achievement for Atlas Network’s partner, the Institute for Justice (IJ).

IJ’s senior attorney, Wesley Hottot, argued on behalf of Tyson Timbs, who was fighting against a civil forfeiture of his Land Rover following his arrest for one count of drug dealing. Hottot claimed that Mr. Timbs already paid his debts to society via fees of up to $1,200, probation, and house arrest. Taking Timbs’s Land Rover, valued at approximately $40,000, would be “grossly disproportionate” to his offense.

“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,” Hottot said. “This gives them a direct financial incentive to abuse this power and impose excessive fines.”

Timbs used his arrest as an opportunity to get clean and also began working a steady job while making meaningful changes to his life. For Timbs, the state’s claim to his Land Rover would have proven to be damaging to his reentry to society.

“Taking my vehicle makes things unnecessarily difficult for a person like me, who already struggles. To me it doesn’t make sense; if they’re trying to rehabilitate and help me help myself, why do you want to make things harder by taking away the vehicle I need to meet with my parole officer or go to a drug recovery program or go to work” Timbs stated. “You need a car to do all these things. Forfeiture only makes it more challenging for people in my position to clean up and remain a contributing member of society.”

The Supreme Court’s judgment in favor of the Eighth Amendment was the first opportunity to reexamine the doctrine of civil forfeiture in nearly 20 years. With the help of IJ, the Timbs case has proven to be a historic step towards protecting the rights of individuals against abusive state actions.

To learn more about IJ’s role in the Supreme Court case, click here.