Awaiting the Verdict in Timbs v. Indiana

If we can say one thing definitively about government, we can say that it will not limit itself. The Bill of Rights and Constitution were the Founders’ response to the possibility that the new Republic they were creating would end up just as oppressive as the crown government they were overthrowing.

Were they successful?

This question has been the most consistent theme of my show for the past 10 years.

The topic of my show this Sunday gets to the core of this question.

The case of Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover v. State of Indiana was argued last week, and we can expect a verdict by June. Tyson Timbs was convicted of dealing small amounts of heroin to fund a painkiller addiction he had developed after he began taking pain medications for a sore foot.

The police apprehended him in his vehicle — a $42,000 Land Rover, which he had purchased with the proceeds of his recently deceased father’s life insurance policy. Police seized the car, finding it guilty “in rem” (latin for “the thing itself”) and therefore subject to the practice known as civil asset forfeiture.

Even after Timbs paid his debt to society through a mixture of house arrest, mandatory rehab, and other fines (and even though the maximum fine for his crime is specified at $10,000) the state refused to return the vehicle.

“The right to be free from excessive fines remains fundamental today.”

This line from the Institute for Justice’s opening brief in Timbs’ defense encapsulates the decision before the Supreme Court. The power to fine, Timbs’ lawyers at the Institute for Justice note, is uniquely prone to abuse. Does the court affirm a tradition dating back to the Magna Carta that puts a check on the government’s ability to “police for profit”?

In this episode, Samuel Gedge, a lead attorney in the case, joins me to delve into the long history of excessive fines and explain why excessive fines are prohibited alongside “cruel and unusual punishment” in the 8th Amendment.

Civil asset forfeiture has a long and nasty history, and in recent times has been an instrument of religious and racist bigotry. The Court has long held that such punishments are not allowed at the federal level, but the State of Indiana argues that it is exempt as a state and is justified in the seizure of Timbs’ vehicle because of the in rem jurisdiction.

As we await the outcome in Timbs v. Indiana, we have reason to be optimistic. Justices on both sides of the political spectrum seemed skeptical of the State of Indiana’s line of reasoning — noting that most rights in the Bill of Rights have been incorporated into the states since the passage of the 14th Amendment.

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