Civil Asset Seizure Slapped Down By Unanimous Supreme Court

By on February 22, 2019

February 22, 2019

Civil forfeiture, a practice that’s periodically been demonized by critics from both left and right for decades, has finally been addressed – and curtailed – by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Both the ACLU and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had weighed in on this case, reports the Washington Post, with the Chamber citing a nationwide study that showed 60 percent of 1,400 municipal and county agencies surveyed relied on forfeiture “profits” as a necessary part of their budget. The decision, which was announced by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on day two of her return to the court after cancer surgery, specifically addressed the use by states and municipalities of the practice, whereby authorities seize property alleged to have been involved or utilized in some way in the commission of a crime, even in cases where guilt hasn’t been established and where the value of the property seized is wildly disproportionate to the crime alleged. This practice has led to “egregious and well-chronicled abuses,” wrote Justice Thomas, who cited among other sources a report from the Washington Post detailing how police had been able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from motorists who had not been charged with crimes. In the Supreme Court case, Timbs v Indiana, the state had seized the defendant’s SUV after his arrest in a matter involving about $200 worth of heroin. He pled guilty and was sentenced to home detention, probation, and a court-supervised addiction treatment program. His sentence did not include a fine, but if it had the maximum would have been $10,000. Nonetheless, the state kept the $40,000-plus Land  Rover SUV. The court did not opine on whether or not the penalty leveled on the defendant in this case was excessive. It said only that the Indiana Supreme Court was wrong to argue that the Eighth Amendment did not apply to state seizures, and the case will now need to be reheard.

 

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The Washington Post

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