« "We've Normalized Prison: The carceral state and its threat to democracy" | Main | Prez candidate Beto O'Rourke releases a "comprehensive plan to end mass incarceration" »

October 28, 2019

Upon SCOTUS remand, Indiana Supreme Court remand Timbs after setting out excessiveness standards

In Timbs v. Indiana, the US Supreme Court unanimously held that the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause applies to the states, but then remanded the case back to the Indiana courts to figure out just how that Clause should apply in Tyson Timbs' case.  Today, the Indiana Supreme Court issued this opinion in which it further remands the case to the state trial court with the help of a lengthy opinion explaining its approach to the Clause.  Here is how the opinion starts and concludes:

Civil forfeiture of property is a powerful law-enforcement tool.  It can be punitive and profitable: punitive for those whose property is confiscated; and profitable for the government, which takes ownership of the property.

When a civil forfeiture is even partly punitive, it implicates the Eighth Amendment’s protection against excessive fines. And since that safeguard applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, we now face two questions left open by the Supreme Court of the United States.  First, how should courts determine whether a punitive, in rem forfeiture is an excessive fine? And second, would forfeiture of Tyson Timbs’s vehicle be an excessive fine?

We answer the first question with an analytical framework similar to those of almost all courts to have addressed the issue.  For the second question, we remand for the trial court to determine, based on that framework, whether Timbs has cleared the hurdle of establishing gross disproportionality, entitling him to relief....

Conclusion

Over twenty-five years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously held that in rem forfeitures can be punitive and, thus, fines subject to the Eighth Amendment’s excessiveness limitation.  It left to lower courts the task of establishing the appropriate measure of excessiveness — a task that we take up today.

We accordingly hold that a use-based in rem fine is excessive if (1) the property was not an instrumentality of the underlying crimes, or (2) the property was an instrumentality, but the harshness of the punishment would be grossly disproportional to the gravity of the underlying offenses and the owner’s culpability for the property’s misuse.

Here, Timbs’s Land Rover was an instrumentality of the underlying offense of drug dealing.  But we remand for the trial court to answer the question of gross disproportionality based on the framework we set out.

October 28, 2019 at 07:12 PM | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB