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SCOTUS to decide whether Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause applies to the states

Tyson Timbs v. Indiana, USSC 17-1091, certiorari granted 6/18/18

Question presented:

Whether the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Decision below: State v. Timbs, 84 N.E.3d 1179 (Ind. 2017)

USSC Docket

Scotusblog page (including links to cert petition, briefs, and commentary)

The State sought to forfeit Tyson Timbs’s Land Rover after he used it to transport illegal drugs. Timbs bought the vehicle for some $42,000; his crimes involved a couple of sales of heroin totaling four grams, for which he received a year on home detention followed by five years of probation and various costs and assessments totaling about $1,200. The trial court held the proposed forfeiture would violate the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause because it was grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the offenses. The Indiana Supreme Court reversed, holding the Excessive Fines Clause didn’t bar the forfeiture because the U.S. Supreme Court has not explicitly held that the Clause applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court will now decide that question and resolve a split among lower courts.

The Indiana Supreme Court’s position is the minority one; it joins just three other states that have reached that conclusion. On the other side of the split, as the cert petition explains (at 13-18), are two federal circuit courts of appeals and 14 state supreme courts that have held the Excessive Fines Clause does apply to the states. Our supreme court hasn’t expressly decided the issue, but both it and the court of appeals have assumed the Excessive Fines Clause applies to the states, City of Milwaukee v. Kilgore, 193 Wis. 2d 168, 190, 532 N.W.2d 690, 698 (1995), and State v. Hammad, 212 Wis. 2d 343, 348, 569 N.W.2d 68 (Ct. App. 1997), and the court of appeals has addressed Eighth Amendment challenges to property forfeitures in a number of cases, e.g., HammadState v. One 2013 Toyota Corolla, 2015 WI App 84, ¶¶14-22, 365 Wis. 2d 582, 872 N.W.2d 98; State v. Boyd, 2000 WI App 208, ¶¶7-17, 238 Wis. 2d 693, 618 N.W.2d 251; and State v. Bergquist, 2002 WI App 39, ¶¶10-14, 250 Wis. 2d 792, 641 N.W.2d 179. We’ll learn next term whether the Excessive Fines Clause does apply to state court proceedings or whether challenges to excessive fines and forfeitures will have to be brought under Article I, § 6 of the state constitution.

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