Timbs Supreme Court Case: Amicus Briefs Stack Up Against Excessive Fines

In late November or early December, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Timbs v. State of Indiana, a case that will decide whether the U.S. Constitution’s protection against excessive fines applies to state and local governments, just as it has applied to the federal government since 1791. The case involves the forfeiture of a $42,000 vehicle for a crime involving a few hundred dollars. The Indiana Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause applies to only the federal government and does not apply at all to state and local authorities.

“Our client, Tyson Timbs, has already paid his debt to society,” said Wesley Hottot, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing Timbs. “He’s taken responsibility for what he’s done. He’s paid fees. He’s in drug treatment. He’s holding down a job. He’s staying clean. But the State of Indiana wants to take his property, too, and give the proceeds to the agency that seized it. As we explained in our merits brief, there are limits, and this forfeiture crosses the line. We are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling. This case is about more than just a vehicle; it’s about whether 330 million Americans get to enjoy their rights under the U.S. Constitution.”

Nineteen amicus (or “friend-of-the-court”) briefs have been filed thus far in Timbs. Among the more notable amici are:

  • The ACLU, R-Street Institute, Fines and Fees Justice Center and Southern Poverty Law Center, which submitted a brief that examines the effect of excessive fines and fees on the poor, as well as the use of fees to raise revenue for the government.
  • The American Bar Association’s brief examines how the Excessive Fines Clause protects equality of justice under the law.
  • The Constitutional Accountability Center’s brief spotlights the history of the passage of the 14th Amendment, and abuse of fines and forfeitures in post-Civil War southern states.
  • The DKT Liberty Project, Cato Institute, Goldwater Institute, Due Process Institute, Federal Bar Association Civil Rights Section and Texas Public Policy Foundation’s brief examines the abuses of forfeiture, fines, and plea bargaining.
  • The Drug Policy Alliance, NAACP, Americans for Prosperity, Brennan Center for Justice, FreedomWorks Foundation, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and others’ brief examines the history of civil forfeiture and how it came to be.
  • Three prominent scholars of the Eighth Amendment submitted a neutral brief that provides a deep dive into the history behind the Excessive Fines Clause, going back to Magna Carta.
  • The Institute for Free Speech’s brief documents the danger of excessive fines for technical violations of campaign finance laws.
  • The Juvenile Law Center and 40 other organizations filed a brief that chronicles the harsh effects of excessive fines on juveniles in the criminal justice system.
  • The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund’s brief provide a history of the 14th Amendment and asks the Court to revisit cases where it declined to incorporate portions of the Bill of Rights against the states.
  • The Pacific Legal Foundation’s brief documents abusive fines by state and local governments.
  • A collection of scholars, represented by UCLA School of Law Professor Eugene Volokh, filed a brief that discusses how excessive fines impact the poor.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a brief that examines how state attorneys general and other state and local government agencies impose excessive fines on businesses to raise revenue and even for political reasons.

Opposition amici in the case are due October 11.

The Institute for Justice released a high-resolution video news release that recounts Tyson Timbs’ battle to get his vehicle back and to extend constitutional protections against excessive fines across the entire United States.

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The absurdity of Chicago’s rally of Uber & Lyft drivers

Today, drivers for Lyft and Uber are planning a rally to protest their low “wages” and the abuse some have taken while driving. It is absurd because they are all independent contractors and have the option to leave and do something else.

One female driver said she was tired of being “hit on” by riders. Another driver complains that he is only making a net profit of between $10-12 an hour. Then stop driving and do something else. It’s a far better idea than standing around, spending hours protesting for no money when you could be spending those protesting hours finding another gig or driving.

Perhaps these disgruntled drivers could change their mindset from that of an employee to that of a business owner. This can be seen when a driver describes the revenue and profit he or she generates as “wages.” When I have taken rides with Lyft and Uber, I can tell within a minute or two if the driver is thinking like an entrepreneur or an employee. Almost universally, the experience with the entrepreneurial thinking driver is far better than those who think as an employee.

 

Florida Senator Jeff Brandes offers bill to reform driver license suspension rules

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Yesterday, January 6, 2016, Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) announced SPB 7046, related to penalties and fees, has been filed. The proposed legislation will dramatically reform the driver license suspension and revocation process in Florida, and follows a series of hearings by Senator Brandes in the Transportation Committee on the topic.

“Losing a driver license is a devastating penalty which most heavily impacts those with the least ability to afford it. For years the state has piled on driver license suspensions as an additional sanction for various non-driving related activity,” stated Senator Brandes. “This legislation will help thousands of Floridians who are caught in a relentless cycle of debt within the legal system. This bill will reduce a major burden on our courts from license suspensions, and it will give many Floridians a means to get back to work.”

The proposal follows media reports last year detailing the substantial number of driver license suspensions occurring annually in Florida. Following those reports, Senator Brandes and the Transportation Committee held several hearings and heard testimony by the State Division of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, elected Public Defenders, and various Clerks of Court. This proposal is a result of those hearings, and it is designed to radically reduce the number of suspended and revoked driver licenses. The bill establishes an alternative system for sanctions for the more than 1.2 million driver license suspensions annually.

SPB 7046 removes suspension and revocation penalties for certain non-driving-related offenses. Individuals who would have their licenses suspended today for many financial related issues will instead be issued a hardship license. The reform package also reforms a controversial surcharge in law for fines or fees which are sent to collections, and clearly establishes the right of a defendant in financial hardship to enter into community service as an alternative method of payment. Finally, the bill eliminates the felony criminal charge for a third or subsequent driving while license is suspended or revoked resulting from a defendant’s inability to pay a fine or fee.

My two days as a Lyft driver

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Some who know me well, know I like to do “experiments” and experience things a bit out of the ordinary. For instance, since it has become mainstream to have a smartphone, I went almost all summer with a “dumb” phone — no camera, no apps. It was both liberating and occasionally frustrating. I have since come to my senses and am again using a smartphone.

As part of another experiment, this past Friday, September 11, 2015, I was approved to become a Lyft driver. If you are not familiar with Lyft, it is very similar to Uber, but a bit more casual and IMO, fun. If you do not know what Uber is, when even my mother knows what it is, then I can only assume you are not from this Earth, in which case, this post will be meaningless. This past summer, all around good guy Earl Stewart of Earl Stewart Toyota gave me the idea, as he had become an Uber driver. As well, I have written extensively about the regulations facing ride share tech companies like Lyft and Uber for some time, even including a couple of posts here on this blog. So, I thought I would immerse myself in this new age of sharing rides which has the taxi companies all up in a huff. And just to qualm any fears, I did not drive around town with a large pink mustache attached to the grill of my BMW.

Uber and Lyft drivers come from all walks of life, some are retired, some are millionaires looking for interesting experiences, some are young people trying to get by and some are your typical “soccer moms” who are looking to earn a little extra money for the family. Heck, even politicians  have become Uber drivers.

I started off early Saturday morning and my Lyft ride was this person’s first Lyft – so we already had something in common since he was my first Lyft. What a great guy — interesting and fun. I picked him up on A1A as he was leaving his girlfriend’s place and needed a Lyft to his office. We had a great conversation on the ride to West Palm Beach. My next Lyft was for a great young guy, in college for sports medicine and aspring to become a sports doctor and open a sports management company in the future. He was leaving an overnight shift and needed a Lyft home — super interesting guy.Another was taking a young guy to work in Boynton Beach who had come to Florida by way of San Diego following a girl. According to him, it was a big mistake as he was now “stuck” in South Florida without the girl and without his prior job, which he loved — working on a sports fishing boat.  My last Lyft of the day (I was only on the driver platform for two hours) was driving a nice young lady to her work in the West Palm Beach area.

All and all, though I was only out two hours, I derived this could be a good way for someone needing some extra cash, or someone to do this full time. I have calculated I would net $13 per hour after car expenses, which is more than many low-wage Palm Beachers make. If they had a quality car, like one from Earl Stewart Toyota (shameless plug, even though I have no financial connection to the company), they could do alright. Admittingly, I did not drive during the reportedly more lucrative times (at night during the weekends and special events) so the $ per hour number could rise substantially if drivers drove during those times. One friend said he made over $1,000 driving on a recent Friday and Saturday night.

I went out Sunday, intermittingly — in the morning for a time, mid-day, and for an hour later in the afternoon. I had six Lyfts which were mostly people going to or from work and one Lyft was from a group of people leaving the beach. I ended the weekend doing ten Lyfts and getting a 5 out of 5 rating from those who rode with me.

What I discovered in this admittingly limited window into the ridesharing world, is that most people using Lyft (and I assume all ridesharing companies) are hardworking, honest people just looking to get ahead in this world. It was inspiring, frankly.

I do not know how much more Lyfting I will do, but overall it was fun and interesting. As you can also guess, I feel the regulation stranglehold our elected officials are trying to use to ruin the future of transportation is appalling. Those calling for more regulation are doing so at the behest of the old, traditional cab companies, which according to everyone I’ve asked, offer far worse service than either Lyft or Uber. Rather than scale up their businesses, they are attempting to use the strong arm of the government to shut down their competition. Commissioners say they are doing it in the name of “safety” but NOT ONE person has come forward to offer ANY evidence Lyft or Uber are any less safe than traditional taxi companies and there is even mounting evidence that companies like Lyft and Uber are making things SAFER on the roads. Heck, even MAAD has come out in support of ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft. Bureaucrats have temporarily succeeded in beating down the high-tech newcomers in Broward County where Lyft and Uber are  no longer permitted by the county government to pick up rides and the county is far worse off for doing so. Fortunately, Broward County Commissioners are meeting this month to fix what they screwed up due to high demand from citizens who are fans of both Uber and Lyft.

One last thing, if you want to try Lyft, use this link to get a free $20 first ride!

IF you think you may want to become a driver, use this link to get a BONUS!

BROWARD UPDATE: Since this blog post, Lyft and Uber are legally back in Broward County with the added ability to pick up and drop off and the Fort Lauderdale Airport and the cruise port.

GENERAL UPDATE: I will be doing another Lyft experiment the week of November 9, 2015, driving for 40+ hours to see what it is like full-time. What can I make financially? Will I continue to enjoy it or will it seem more like a job? Find out the following week when I post here on my blog. Follow this blog to find out!

Florida Gubernatorial candidate fights Real ID in court tomorrow

Florida Gubernatorial candidate Adrian Wyllie continues his fight against Real ID and the State of Florida in court tomorrow, July 18, 2014 at 1:30 p.m. He will be in a hearing at the Pinellas County Justice Center in Clearwater, Florida to dismiss the state’s charge against him for traveling for personal purposes without their permission. Should the judge rule in favor of his motion, then Real ID will have been found to be unconstitutional in Florida. If the judge denies the motion, there will be a jury trial in August. Wyllie is facing Rick Scott and the Democratic primary winner (Charlie Crist or Nan Rich) in the general election in November, 2014 to be Florida’s next governor.

Read the FULL story here.

Florida Gubernatorial candidate shows up in court

Libertarian Party of Florida Gubernatorial candidate Adrian Wyllie was in court yesterday morning, May 4, 2014, fighting for all Floridians to travel in the state without giving up their Fourth Amendment rights. Wyllie pleaded “not guilty” in his case for driving without a license which he had voluntarily surrendered in 2011, rather than renewing it, which would have forced him to comply with the REAL ID Act of 2005. Wyllie’s next step is to go to trial in the case after pleading “not guilty” at yesterday’s hearing.

Read the rest of the story here.