“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is only sixteen words and one sentence but it is one of the most powerful protections in our nation. It essentially means that the punishment must fit the crime. So, what happens when a fine is excessive? Does it violate the Eighth Amendment?
These questions were recently raised in the U.S. Supreme Court case Timbs v. Indiana (586 U.S. 2019).
Asset Forfeiture: A Civil Penalty for Criminal Behavior
The process by which the government takes property in connection with a criminal case is known as asset forfeiture.
In many states, including California, the government has the right to seize homes, cars and other personal property when that property has been used during the commission of a crime.
However, California law does not even require that you be convicted of a crime to be able to seize your assets because asset forfeiture is a considered a civil penalty, not a criminal one.
So, for example, if your spouse is arrested for using a car that you jointly own to transport illegal drugs, your car could be seized even though you were not the person accused of the crime.
The Case of Tyson Timbs (Timbs v. Indiana)
Tyson Timbs was convicted of selling $385 worth of heroin. He was sentenced to one year of house arrest and five years probation. He was also fined $10,000, the maximum under the law. In addition, authorities seized his Land Rover, which he purchased only a few years before for $42,000 with money he received from an insurance policy following the death of his father.
Timbs appealed his case, arguing that the seizing of his vehicle amounted to an excessive fine. His case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court unanimously sided with Timbs.
“Protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history for good reason: Exorbitant tolls undermine other liberties,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “Excessive fines can be used, for example, to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies… Even absent a political motive, fines may be employed in a measure out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence, for fines are a source of revenue, while other forms of punishment cost a State money.”
The Supreme Court decision shows that it believes the Eight Amendment prohibits states from using civil asset forfeiture laws as a method to collect property that is valued at more than the maximum penalty that can be imposed for a particular crime.
Contact the Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today
If you believe your rights were violated or your property was seized illegally, you should contact a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney at Wallin & Klarich as soon as possible. Our skilled attorneys have been protecting our clients’ rights for more than 35 years. Let us help you now.
With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, West Covina, Torrance, Los Angeles and San Diego, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available near you no matter where you are located.
Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.