Constitution's 'excessive fines' ban bolstered by U.S. high court

By Lawrence Hurley WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a decision that may curb the rise of financial penalties and property seizures in the U.S. criminal justice system, the Supreme Court on Wednesday for the first time ruled that the U.S. Constitution's ban on 'excess fines' applies to states as well as the federal government.

Reuters February 21, 2019 04:05:30 IST
Constitution's 'excessive fines' ban bolstered by U.S. high court

Constitutions excessive fines ban bolstered by US high court

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a decision that may curb the rise of financial penalties and property seizures in the U.S. criminal justice system, the Supreme Court on Wednesday for the first time ruled that the U.S. Constitution's ban on "excess fines" applies to states as well as the federal government.

The nine justices ruled unanimously in favour of an Indiana man named Tyson Timbs who argued that police violated his rights by seizing his $42,000 Land Rover vehicle after he was convicted as a heroin dealer.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, back on the bench for a second straight day after undergoing lung cancer surgery in December, wrote the court's opinion, which clarified the applicability of the "excessive fines" prohibition contained in the Constitution's Eighth Amendment.

"For good reason, the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history. Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties," Ginsburg said in court as she announced the ruling.

The vehicle was taken in a process called civil asset forfeiture that permits police to seize and keep property involved in a crime.

"The Supreme Court recognised rightly that the excessive fines clause is a vital check on the government's power to punish people and strip them of their property," said Sam Gedge, a lawyer at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian legal group that represents Timbs.

Civil liberties activists have criticized an increase in the use of fines and other penalties in the federal and state criminal justice systems in the past three decades. Organizations from across the ideological spectrum backed Timbs, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group.

'SEE PEOPLE AS DOLLAR SIGNS'

"The excessive fines clause is now clearly held to be a safeguard when state and local courts and police see people as dollar signs," ACLU lawyer Nusrat Choudhury said.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, wrote on Twitter, "Like our broken cash bail system, excessive fines and confiscation of property lead to the criminalisation of poverty."

The case will now return to Indiana courts to determine whether the seizure was excessive.

"Although we argued for a different outcome, we respect the court's decision," Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, a Republican, said in a statement.

Timbs pleaded guilty in 2015 to one count of dealing in controlled substances and one count of conspiracy to commit theft after selling four grams of heroin to undercover police officers for $385 in Marion, Indiana in two separate transactions two years earlier, according to legal filings.

He was sentenced to one year of home detention and five years of probation, and authorities seized his 2012 Land Rover LR2 SUV, which he had used to purchase, transport and sell the drugs. The decision means that Timbs now has a chance to get his Land Rover back.

The Eighth Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, the Constitution's first 10 amendments that were ratified in 1791 as guarantees of individual rights and curbs on governmental power.

The Supreme Court has held that various parts of the Bill of Rights apply to the states, not just the federal government, including the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In a 2010 gun rights decision, it ruled that the Second Amendment right "to keep and bear arms" applies to the states.

Timbs, who has admitted he was a drug addict, purchased the Land Rover in 2013 with money he obtained from a life insurance policy following the death of his father.

Timbs argued that his vehicle's seizure constituted an excessive fine because he had dealt drugs only twice, was convicted of only one drug-dealing offence and the maximum fine for the offence was $10,000, much less than the vehicle's value.

Timbs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Indiana Supreme Court in 2017 reversed an Indiana state judge's 2015 ruling in his favour.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources
| Reuters
World

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources | Reuters

By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States

China's Xi says navy should become world class
| Reuters
World

China's Xi says navy should become world class | Reuters

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.