Timbs v. Indiana May Not Go Very Far, but It Would Be a Good Step


It is unlikely that a ruling by the Supreme Court Timbs v. Indiana will go far enough to rein in civil asset forfeiture, even if it turns out to be a victory for that cause, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction:

The case is Timbs v. Indiana. It arose in 2013 when a man named Tyson Timbs was arrested on drug charges and sentenced to one year on home detention and five years on probation. A few months after his arrest, the state of Indiana also moved to seize Timbs’ brand new Land Rover LR2, a vehicle worth around $40,000. A state trial court rejected that civil asset forfeiture effort, however, on the grounds that it would be “grossly disproportionate to the gravity of [Timbs’] offense” and therefore in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which forbids the imposition of “excessive fines.”

The state’s forfeiture effort clearly qualifies as excessive. Timbs’ original crime carried a maximum financial penalty of just $10,000. And as the trial court observed, “a forfeiture of approximately four (4) times the maximum monetary fine is disproportional.” The trial court was right to deem the state’s actions unconstitutional.

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But the Indiana Supreme Court took a different view when it decided the case in 2017.

If nothing else, the case is an excellent indicator of the fundamental injustice of civil asset forfeiture, inasmuch as it creates an additional category of penalty that isn’t technically considered a penalty.  “We’re taking your property away, but it’s not a penalty; it’s just that your property doesn’t really count as your property.”