Can a state impose any fine, no matter how outrageous?
Or does the U.S. Constitution prohibit states and local governments from imposing excessive fines, fees, and forfeitures, just as it prohibits the federal government from doing so?
These questions will soon be answered, after the U.S. Supreme Court granted review of the Institute for Justice’s petition for certiorari in Timbs v. Indiana. The case will have nationwide implications because it raises an unsettled question of constitutional law: Whether the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause applies to state and local authorities.
The case shines a spotlight on the excessive fines and fees often imposed by governments, and showcases yet another example of the inevitable abuse of power that results when government employs civil forfeiture, a process through which police and prosecutors seize someone’s property and keep the proceeds for themselves, thus giving law enforcement an incentive to maximize profits rather than seek the neutral administration of justice.
Merits briefs will be filed in the fall and the Supreme Court will hear argument sometime next term.
Civil forfeiture laws pose some of the greatest threats to property rights in the nation today, too often making it easy and lucrative for law enforcement to take and keep property—regardless of the owner’s guilt or innocence. This updated and expanded second edition of Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture makes the…