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Supreme Court Says Constitutional Protection Against Excessive Fines Applies to State Actions

On February 20, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Timbs v. Indiana that the prohibition against excessive fines contained in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, applies to the states and its subdivisions by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In Timbs, the state had seized in civil forfeiture proceedings a $42,000 Land Rover the defendant had used in the commission of a crime involving the sale of a few hundred dollars’ worth of heroin. The lower state courts concluded that the civil forfeiture constituted an excessive fine in violation of the Eighth Amendment because the maximum fine associated with the crime was $10,000. The Indiana Supreme Court, however, reversed, concluding that the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines prohibition applied only to federal action and not state action. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari review and reversed.
 
While the U.S. Supreme Court did not expressly conclude that in this particular case the seizure was excessive, it did conclude that the Eighth Amendment has full application to the states, including the proscription against excessive fines. Citing to its earlier decision in Austin v. United States, 509 U. S. 602 (1993), a case involving a federal forfeiture, the Court reaffirmed that civil in rem forfeitures fall within the Excessive Fines Clause’s protection when they are at least partially punitive. Taken together with Austin, the Court’s ruling inTimbs leads to the conclusion that local civil forfeitures will be subject to Eighth Amendment scrutiny unless and until Austin is overruled.
 
While some Florida courts have assumed that the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment applies to state civil forfeitures, those decisions have proceeded from an extension of the Austin decision to state proceedings. Timbs represents the first confirmation by the U.S. Supreme Court that the Eighth Amendment’s reach fully extends to state civil forfeitures. The issuance of Timbs will renew interest by defendants charged with criminal violations and subject to civil forfeiture proceedings to mount challenges to those forfeitures under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Should you have questions regarding the implications of the Timbs decision to local government forfeitures, we are available to address those questions.
 
If you have any questions about this or any other appellate matter, please feel free to reach out to Edward G. Guedes, Esq. at (305)854-0800 or at eguedes@wsh-law.com.

Categories: Appellate Law & Practice
Tags: Miami Appellate Law Attorneys