July 21, 2020

Opponents of civil forfeiture know of Tyson Timbs—and the U.S. Supreme Court decision that bears his name. Tyson won a landmark victory against abusive fines, fees, and forfeitures in 2019, but his story didn’t end at the Supreme Court.

Let’s go back to the beginning. In 2013, Tyson was arrested in his hometown of Marion, Indiana, for a first-time, nonviolent drug crime. The state sued to forfeit his $35,000 car. The trial court ruled that the forfeiture violated the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. But the Indiana Supreme Court reversed, saying the Excessive Fines Clause didn’t apply to the states. IJ brought Tyson’s case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that the Clause protects against state abuses no less than federal ones.

What’s happened since? Fifteen months later, we’re still fighting. Unbowed by the Supreme Court’s rebuke, the Indiana attorney general forged ahead with his campaign to keep Tyson’s car. Back in the Indiana Supreme Court, the state insisted that it could confiscate any property linked to any crime. (In the state’s telling, even a car pulled over for speeding would be up for grabs.) Not surprisingly, the Indiana Supreme Court rejected that argument this past October.

But rather than rule for Tyson outright, the Indiana Supreme Court sent his case back to Marion for a new trial. This spring, the trial judge ruled again in Tyson’s favor. The court noted that, having charged Tyson with a low-level drug crime, the state then “sought forfeiture of his only asset; an asset he purchased using life insurance proceeds rather than drug money, and a tool essential to maintaining employment, obtaining treatment, and reducing the likelihood that he would ever again commit another criminal offense.” That mismatch between crime and punishment meant Tyson could show “by a significant margin” that the forfeiture was excessive.

Victory in hand, Tyson arrived home at the end of May to find his Land Rover in the driveway. The moment was a long time coming. But the story continues: Incredibly, the attorney general has appealed once again to the Indiana Supreme Court, seeking to preserve its ability to financially benefit from forfeiture. The fight goes on, but IJ and Tyson are ready for it.

Sam Gedge is an IJ attorney.

Subscribe to get Liberty & Law magazine direct to your mailbox!

Sign up to receive IJ's bimonthly magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking news updates about the Institute for Justice's fight to protect the rights of all Americans.