State and local authorities cannot treat Americans like ATMs. There are instead federal constitutional limits to the many fines, fees and forfeitures that states and localities impose. That is the principle that Tyson Timbs and the Institute for Justice established at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019.
In a unanimous opinion by Justice Ginsburg, the Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause applies in state and local proceedings. The court reversed the Indiana Supreme Court’s determination (and that of three other states) that federal constitutional protections simply did not apply within state borders.
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.
The case attracted amicus briefs from a diverse coalition of groups calling on the Court to hold that the Excessive Fines Clause applied nationwide. The groups included the Cato Institute, American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP, Constitutional Accountability Center, and Pacific Legal Foundation. All of the amicus briefs can be downloaded from the Supreme Court’s website.
On remand, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in October 2019 that the Excessive Fines Clause provides meaningful protection against outsized fines and forfeitures. The court then sent the case back to the original trial court to determine whether confiscating Tyson’s vehicle is unconstitutional. The trial court ruled In Tyson’s favor in April 2020, and Tyson got his vehicle back in May 2020. The government appealed again to the Indiana Supreme Court, which ruled in Tyson’s favor in June 2021.
Petition for Certiorari
Brief in Opposition to Petition for Writ of Certiorari
Final Reply in Support of Cert
Reply Brief for Petitioners
Transcript of Oral Arguments
Supreme Court Opinion
Opening Brief for Appellees
Supplemental Response Brief for Appellees
Indiana Supreme Court Opinion (On Remand)
Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgement
Indiana Supreme Court Opinion
Response Brief for Appellees (2020 Appeal)
After giving up on using civil forfeiture to claim their safe deposit boxes, the FBI did not return all of Don, Jeni, and Michael's property. They are suing to get their missing coins and cash…
When the government seizes property from people without justification, and they have to spend money to get their property back, they deserve to be made whole.
Brian Moore fought to get his property back from the federal government and he won. In 2021, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents seized $8,500 in cash from him at Atlanta’s airport while he was waiting…
Linda Martin's home savings were seized by the FBI. She received a confusing forfeiture notice that didn't clearly say what she did wrong for the government to want to take her money.