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Supreme Court: Eighth Amendment Protection Against 'Excessive Fines' Applies to States

February 20, 2019
By U.S. Supreme Court

The unanimous court decision in Timbs v. Indiana was based on the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments

In the case of Timbs v Indiana, police seized Tyson Timbs’ Land Rover after he sold several grams of heroin to an undercover police officer in a sting operation. Indiana’s civil asset forfeiture laws allowed the police to confiscate his $42,000 vehicle because of its suspected connection with a crime. Asset forfeiture allows officials to seize cars, cash, real estate, and other personal property without convicting a person of a criminal offense. Law enforcement agencies often retain the proceeds for their use.

Writing for eight of the justices, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg writes: "The question presented: Is the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause an “incorporated” protection applicable to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause? Like the Eighth Amendment’s proscriptions of “cruel and unusual punishment” and “[e]xcessive bail,” the protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government’s punitive or criminal law enforcement authority. This safeguard, we hold, is“fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty,” with “dee[p] root[s] in [our] history and tradition.” McDonald v. Chicago...The Excessive Fines Clause is therefore incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas argues that the Eighth Amendment is incorporated by 'the privileges and immunities' clause of the Fourteenth Amendment rather than the 'due process' clause.