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.