The United States Supreme Court rarely rules unanimously these days. Nevertheless, it did so recently when it passed down a decision that makes it clear that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of excessive fines, fees and forfeitures applies to states.
In her return to work, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion and announced it from the bench, stating:
“The protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government’s punitive or criminal law-enforcement authority,” Ginsburg wrote. Quoting in part from the court’s 2010 ruling that Second Amendment gun rights apply to the states, she said, “This safeguard, we hold, is ‘fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty.'”
Indiana Man wins case
This ruling is based on the case involving Tyson Timbs, who was arrested for selling less than $400 worth of heroin to undercover police officers in 2013. Once convicted, Timbs was fined $1,200 in fees, sentenced to one year of home detention and five years probation. The state also seized his $42,000 Land Rover he had bought with life insurance money after his father’s death.
The seizure of the SUV is a particularly glaring example of how state and local governments here in Indiana and elsewhere are using funds from civil and criminal cases to finance budgets – according to the ACLU, the worst examples range from 7 to 30 percent of their budget.
Preying upon the poor
This practice often unfairly impacts poor and low-income defendants, pushing them further into poverty and creating a downward spiral of more crime, prison and recidivism. The Indiana Supreme court had previously ruled that the Eighth Amendment did not apply to states.
Fighting excessive fines
One of the primary roles of a defense attorney is insuring that an individual’s rights are protected to the full extent of the law. Part of that role is ensuring that states and municipalities do not excessively and unfairly fine or punish defendants.