Supreme Court Agrees To Take Petition Asking Whether Eighth Amendment Protections Apply To Asset Forfeiture

from the chance-to-reshape-forfeiture-programs-from-the-bench dept

The Supreme Court has agreed to take a case that may alter how states run their asset forfeiture programs. As it stands now, there’s nothing unifying forfeiture policies across the nation and, under Jeff Sessions, the DOJ has reopened the federal forfeiture pressure valve, allowing state agencies to bypass recently-passed reforms.

But there’s still something at the federal level that possibly affects state-level forfeitures. The question for the Supreme Court is whether or not a Constitutional protection overrides state laws. The case centers on the seizure of an Indiana resident’s Land Rover after a drug bust. Tyson Timbs had purchased the $42,000 vehicle with funds from his father’s life insurance. So, the vehicle was legally obtained with funds not even remotely linked to Timbs’ drug dealing.

The state took it because Timbs used it to transport drugs on one of the controlled buys cops performed. It processed it as a civil asset forfeiture (rather than a criminal asset forfeiture) to get around the fact the fines and sentence didn’t justify the criminal seizure of a $42,000 vehicle. A drug sale of $225 netted Timbs a year of house arrest and $1200 in legal fees. Then the state decided to take his car because why not.

That’s what Timbs is challenging. The Eighth Amendment contains an Excessive Fines Clause. Timbs is hoping to have the court find the seizure of a $42,000 vehicle over $225 worth of drugs a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Considering the state levies a maximum $10,000 fine for the offense Timbs was charged with, a $40,000 seizure would appear to be excessive. But Timbs only batted .500 in Indiana courts.

[T]he trial court ruled against the government. Because taking Tyson’s car would be “grossly disproportional” to his offense—for which Tyson had already been punished—the trial court held that the forfeiture would violate the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed. Tyson suffered from drug addiction, the court noted, but his only record of dealing was selling a small amount of drugs to undercover police. The court also noted the “financial burdens” that Tyson had already faced when he pleaded guilty. Taking his car on top of all that would violate the Eighth Amendment.

Then the Indiana Supreme Court stepped in. Breaking with at least 14 other state high courts, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment provides no protection at all against fines and forfeitures imposed by the states. Until the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, the Indiana Supreme Court said, “We will not impose federal obligations on the State that the federal government itself has not mandated.”

As Timbs notes in his Supreme Court brief [PDF], the court needs to take action to resolve splits not only at the federal level, but across the many state courts. There’s no unified judicial theory of Eighth Amendment protections against civil asset forfeiture and this is only allowing states where forfeiture abuse is prevalent to become more abusive. The DOJ’s escape hatch certainly isn’t helping. A decision in Timbs’ favor won’t be a drastic alteration but it will provide another avenue of attack for those seeking to challenge forfeitures.

It may also force law enforcement agencies to do what they say they do, rather than what they actually do. They claim forfeiture is an essential tool for crippling huge criminal organizations and drug cartels. In reality, it’s usually just a convenient way for agencies to enrich themselves at the expense of low-level dealers like Timbs and, worse, people who are never criminally charged.



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Comments on “Supreme Court Agrees To Take Petition Asking Whether Eighth Amendment Protections Apply To Asset Forfeiture”

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40 Comments
Bergmansays:

Re: Re: Amendment V

Doesn’t apply, supposedly. Property is not a person and has no rights. Supposedly, the case is against the property and the owner is an uninvolved bystander.

Never mind that forfeiting the property deprives the owner of it, and the owner (who does have rights) cannot be harmed by the government without due process.

Davidsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Amendment V

Which is nonsense, since the 4th states: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. The “and effects” means personal property, money, and belongings. Of course we know that, but why are we still not outraged that the government is convicting inanimate objects (including houses, which is expressly mentioned in the 4th) of actively perpetrating a crime?

We need more of this going to the Supreme Court.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Amendment V

The government already violates Amendment V with Sarbanes Oxley.

Part of Sarbanes Oxley is unconsitutional on its face, making it illegal to wipe your hard disk clean. The clearly violates the fifth amendment protections against self incrimination.

I think that at some point in the future, that part of Sarbanes Oxley will be tossed by the Supreme Court.

Davidsays:

Re: Re:

Yup. There is a reason the ruling party gets to install Supreme Court judges.

Civil asset forfeiture does not take from the privileged classes. It’s another taxation on those not currying special favor with law enforcement.

The Republican party has become the party of the privileged and the stupid, with the privileged people paying for the campaigns that are effective for garnering the votes of the stupid.

Taking a look at history, it’s likely that eventually the stupid will be taken out of the loop completely and pretense will follow by and by.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Das cool, we already know that TD is okay with onesided partisan politics but let me stop you right there with your blind sycophantic democrat worship there.

A privileged class has existed in all societies and all political walks, no exception. The idea that somehow this is a republican trait when it is an everyone trait is pretty telling about your selective biases.

Perhaps you should be talking a long look at history, the stupid are not taken out of the loop… just gamed like the idiots they are… which is both the democrat and republican parties. The D’s woo the lazy and incompetent and talk sweet nothing lies in their ears to get them to vote for them to be in power, and the R’s woo the middle class and “scaring” them into believing that the poor are coming for their money when it is in fact the rich that want it. The poor do not really want money so much as they want everyone to suffer with them. Misery LOVES company!

And regarding the rhetoric on classes, you should probably shut your pie hole, the entire platform of the left is to group everyone into a class based on race, income, gender identity, and geography. If you do not belong to one of their “classes” of protected then you are shit to them… perpetuating the very problem they falsely claim to want to prevent. typical…

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

You should reconsider Hitchen’s razor…

You provided the citation for me.

You see, you decided to focus on the person accusing the place of being partisan before calling out the person with a clearly partisan post.

If you need more proof than that… well let’s just say you were not prepared to accept any facts from the get go.

Davidsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

A privileged class has existed in all societies and all political walks, no exception. The idea that somehow this is a republican trait when it is an everyone trait is pretty telling about your selective biases.

It’s not a "republican trait": after all, the Republican party has had both Lincoln and Eisenhower as iconic presidents who took the rights of the disenfranchised serious enough to send the army marching into the South.

It’s just that the current Republican party has become with the interests of the privileged class. Now make no mistake: politicians tend to very much come from privileged classes giving them better chances at developing capacity of nuanced speech and thought. But there can be large differences to what degree they lean towards using that capacity for improving life for everyone, for their own ilk, or just stuffing their personal pockets.

And for whatever reason, the Republican party went a longer way downhill in that respect in the last decades than other parties. You could state that this difference might be more striking mostly because they started from higher above. But it doesn’t matter all that much to where they are now.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re:

“It’s just that the current Republican party has become with the interests of the privileged class.”

I don’t think so, I have yet to ever meet a republican party that was not interested in having a privileged class. Even when republicans sent those armies they were for political gain and just happened to have a great foil to advance the cause to gain those supporters. You may have noticed that even after the civil war was done many slaves were still treated at best like 2nd class citizens. There was still more than enough institutionalized racism to keep them as slaves in a “social” capacity.

“And for whatever reason, the Republican party went a longer way downhill in that respect in the last decades than other parties. You could state that this difference might be more striking mostly because they started from higher above. But it doesn’t matter all that much to where they are now.”

I think that is the problem here. Both are so low and falling equally that focusing on just one becomes nothing other than partisanship. Both parties are in need of such a large amount of clean up that I don’t think there will be any recovery. Just look at all of the other folks getting bent over my response. They are clearly getting butt hurt over something.

The problem is that many D’s & R’s have some sort of psychosis with their party and anyone trying to call it out just became and enemy rather than a concerned observer trying to tell both that their corruption is obvious to those on the other side and to anyone outside of either group.

Anonymoussays:

The Third Amendment
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

In some state and cities it is a common practice that is a room is rented in a private house that the renter has more rights than the owner. This is especially true in New York City where it is almost impossible to remove people today who first started rented rooms in WW2.

The Fourth Amendment
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Who ever dreamed when the Bill of Rights was written that the police could to go to internet and telephone companies to have people continuously tracked and for access to all a person thoughts, to psychological profiles, and all financial dealings.

Opinion
1. The complete constitution should apply to all the citizens of the US not to only a select few.

That is computer companies should have no more right to inspect the contents of a computer than the police do with out a warrant. That no such warrant should be issue except to a police agency and that aggregation of data seized with out knowledge and permission of owner without a warrant is the equivalence of bank robbery ie taking without permission.

2. The states should not have the right to force home owners to have to supply lodging to non Soldier in their home and this should be especially true when such lodging last for 75 years extending form the original renters to their kids and then to their grand kids.

Sharursays:

Re: Re:

  1. The “select few” that are limited in the Constitution are specifically the branches of government. The only limitations in the original Constitution, and up to the 12th amendment, that apply to individual citizens is the qualifications for eligibility for the houses of the Federal Congress and of the Presidency, and some rules governing electors.

    The idea is that Congress can write new rules (laws) to govern the citizenry, both police and not police, and can alter them (relatively) easily, in order to adapt to the times and the conditions we face. The limits in the Constitution are intentionally hard to change, because they were supposed to be limitations on the government not the general populace.

    Basically, there is no (legal or Constitutional) issue with a law prohibiting computer companies from inspecting a persons computer without a subpoena (which, like a warrant, is a court order). The only reason this doesn’t happen is a lack of sufficient political will/capital to make it happen.

    2. The third amendment was specifically written to counter a offense of the British during and before the Revolution, where soldiers would be bulleted in private homes, not only living there but forcing the occupants to feed them, under pain of prosecution. It was not a normal “taking”, the rules for which are governed else where in the Constitution, specifically the 5th Amendment.

    Your complaint about housing laws is, in fact, the state and local governments preemptively declaring what is and is not conscionable in a housing contract. When you rent to someone, you enter a contract, wherein you trade some of your rights as a property holder, for a specified term of time, to the renter, in exchange for consideration, normally a promise to pay a specified amount of money at a specific date, on in other words, a debt.

    Courts in the common law, have had the power to declare provisions and entire contracts “not conscionable” and thus void or change them to make them “conscionable”, since “time immemorial”, which means since before William the Conqueror invaded England. Since, in the US, courts are bound to the law, this means courts have to follow those laws on what is or is not conscionable and enforceable by a court in a contract.

    The home owners (or their predecessors in the contract) have signed a contract with the tenants (or their predecessors in the contract), the terms of which, include the right to transfer the rights and obligations under the contract, are governed both by the specific contract and contracts in general in the jurisdiction the contract was made.

    No home owner, in New York or else where in the US as far as I am aware, is forced to supply lodging; they are bound to rules both in their specific contract and governing housing contracts in general.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“are specifically the branches of government”

Actually during the civil rights era agency of state was regarded as extending to persons acting on behalf of the state in unoffocial capacities. ie. The KKK working on behalf of the Sherriff, could be prosecuted as a state actor, and the Sherriff could be criminally prosecuted for conspiracy.

Of course since things like math, physics, science, et al. don’t constitute “standing” in federal court, it gets a little difficult to litigate under the bill of rights when violations are of a digital nature. It is getting hard to plausibly argue that the third party doctrine and corporate personhood are not being specifically engineered to provide this particular rock to crawl under.

Anonymoussays:

Amendment #5

5th Amendment is proper focus. Your property may not be seized without due process of law. The basic U.S. 5th Amendment is duplicated in all state constitutions.

Due process means that cops can’t just take/keep your stuff — a formal judicial/court proceeding is required … where the defendant has a fair opportunity to see and contest the charges/evidence against him before an impartial judge.

State and lower courts could easily have negated the whole issue of Asset-Forfeiture … if those courts had any allegiance to state constitutions and U.S. Constitution.

That One Guysays:

... come again?

Then the Indiana Supreme Court stepped in. Breaking with at least 14 other state high courts, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment provides no protection at all against fines and forfeitures imposed by the states. Until the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, the Indiana Supreme Court said, ?We will not impose federal obligations on the State that the federal government itself has not mandated.?

Those ‘federal obligations’ being constitutional rights, it seems that they are arguing that while the federal government is bound by those pesky ‘rules’, individual states are not unless it has been explicitly stated as such.

(Now where have I heard that argument before… ah yes, in various other stories about people with badges abusing their positions and in turn given approval by the courts.)

You know they are really desperate to keep their ill-gotten gains when they start making arguments like that.

DannyBsays:

Why would Amendments still apply?

Our government CLEARLY no longer respects a number of constitutional amendments. So why should ANY of them still be respected?

The court should at least require consistency in how the government treats the constitution and its amendments. Thus NONE of the constitution or its amendments should be respected.

Advantages:
* it would make the system more fair
* more consistent
* Easier for people to understand that they have no rights
* It would make all levels of law enforcement more streamlined and efficient
* No more pesky warrants
* Asset forfeiture any time anywhere
* No more limitations on punishments
* Saves huge amounts of taxpayer money because police work is MUCH easier in a police state

What possible counter arguments could there be? The duty of the court seems clear.

Anonymoussays:

Government entities that confiscate property should not be able to keep any of it, an obvious conflict of interest. The whole concept of “civil asset forfeiture” is basically little more than outright theft, similar to the way that governments define and confiscate “abandoned” property and then put much more effort into keeping it than they ever put into finding the “missing” owner who was in plain sight the whole time.

Davidsays:

This is going nowhere.

The rightful owner doesn’t even have standing since civil asset forfeiture is filed against the property, not its owner, and rehabilitates it from unhealthsome occupations, giving it a job in government instead.

It’s not “punishment”, like childcare taking away children from their parents isn’t enacted as punishment of the parents but to ensure the children’s well-being.

Of course this is a load of ridiculous and cynical self-serving bullshit but if the Supreme Court had any interest in putting a stop to it, it would have had lots of opportunity for acting already.

So expect this to be a further nail in the coffin for constitutional rights.

Re: Re: This is going nowhere.

Of course this is a load of ridiculous and cynical self-serving bullshit but if the Supreme Court had any interest in putting a stop to it, it would have had lots of opportunity for acting already.

Not exactly.

Techdirt had a good article on this subject last year (ShadowNinja alluded to it upthread): Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case, But Justice Thomas Questions Constitutionality Of Asset Forfeiture Here’s the important bit:

Unfortunately, for procedural reasons (the people who had their money seized didn’t challenge the constitutionality at the lower courts and only did so after losing), the Supreme Court has to reject this case.

The reason the court chose not to hear the case was due to how the plaintiffs argued the case in the lower courts; it had nothing to do with the court’s feelings on the merits of civil asset forfeiture. Indeed, the court laid out a road map for what plaintiffs would need to do in order to get a CAF case before it; a year later, it’s accepted one. That doesn’t signal indifference on the court’s part, it’s actually a very quick turnaround by the standards of Supreme Court petitions.

So expect this to be a further nail in the coffin for constitutional rights.

As partisan as this court is, and as much as I often disagree with its decisions, I think you’re off-base.

We know at least one conservative justice is very skeptical about CAF. And I doubt he’s the only one.

I really don’t see this being one of those 5-4 rulings that breaks down on partisan lines. I think there’s a reasonable likelihood that a large majority of the court will rule against CAF.

Re: Re: Re: Re: This is going nowhere.

Kennedy just announced his retirement.

This means that we’ll be looking at a very different court by the time this case is heard. All signs point to Trump nominating another Gorsuch.

So that makes it a little harder to predict a solid majority against CAF than it looked a little earlier this morning. But Thomas still looks like a near-certain vote against CAF, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least some of the other conservatives join him.

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

Ah yes, they are bankrupting all of the cartels.
How about we demand a report of every case and see how they are stealing cars, homes, cash and anything else they want by robbing citizens (who most of the time aren’t charged) then making it nearly impossible to get the items returned without spending more than the items are worth.

But sure, bad people deserve to be treated this way!!
Its a pity that running the plate of a Judge or Law maker alerts cops they are to important to be mugged in this way. I think a Judge might look at it sideways if their kid was busted for selling pills to a classmate & they stole his house.

Anonymoussays:

They may as well end assset foreiture without a conviction, because of ways to evade it.

Even though Oklahoma has an ERAD device where they can scan your bank card and and seize the funds on your account, at least one bank, Wells Fargo, is fighting back against that.

There is a feature that will let you, from the Internet, deactivate your card, and then turn it back on, anytime you want. So you could deactivate your card before travelling through Oklahoma, and if a cop stops you and wants to scan your bank card, his “toy” will not be able to get anything, and it will come back as an invalid card, protecting the funds in your bank account.

Netiherh Wells Fargo, or any of its customers are subject to any kind of criminal prosecution for doing this. Neither Oklahoma law, nor any federal law, makes is a crime to decativate your card for the purposes of preventing law enforcement from being able to scan your card.

Wells Fargo is not breaking any laws offering this ability on their cards.

Don’t be surprised if more banks decide to add that feature to their cards, and start rendering ERAD machines useless. And the neither the banks, or their customers, are subject to any criminal prosecution if a cop is unable to get any details about your account.

That One Guysays:

Re: 'That money looks mighty suspicious, think I'll take it.'

Wells Fargo is not breaking any laws offering this ability on their cards.

Yet.

If the ERAD devices spread and more banks start doing something like that(and credit where it’s due, good on Wells Fargo for offering that option), I suspect there will be a push to outlaw that sort of thing, since clearly only criminals would object to police accessing their accounts.

A non-criminal is someone who has nothing to hide after all, and therefore would have no reason to worry about a paragon of virtue checking their account balance.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: 'That money looks mighty suspicious, think I'll take it.'

In some cars there are spaces you can hide your bank cards, where police cannot search without a warrant.

The space under your cup holder, in some cars, will allow you to hide anything you don’t want want found

Hiding your bank cards, or anything else in such spaces, from police to prevent then being found does not break any laws.

A cop cannot to tearing out your cup holder without a warrant.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: 'That money looks mighty suspicious, think I'll take it.'

The way that Wells Fargo markets it, is so that if your card is lost, you can temporarily turn it off, in case you find it, and that would not be illegal for that purpose.

Therefore, it would be illegal for the customer to turn the card off while travelling on the road.

And a cop would never know you turned off your card off the prevent it from being scanned. It will just look like it is an invalid card.

This is why police will take a long time to catch up with me. To a cop who scans your card, it will look like an invalid card.

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