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Bobref

Indiana Civil Forfeiture Case

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In a rare (these days) 9-0 opinion, SCOTUS has struck down Indiana’s civil forfeiture statute. Haven’t read the opinion yet. But I knew @Muda69 would be pleased to hear this.

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Thank you for the update Bob.  This is indeed good news.

Supreme Court Delivers Unanimous Victory for Asset Forfeiture Challenge: http://reason.com/blog/2019/02/20/supreme-court-delivers-unanimous-victory

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States are bound by the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against excessive fines and fees when they seek to seize property or other assets from individuals charged or convicted of a crime, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Wednesday.

It's a decision that hands a major victory to critics of civil asset forfeiture, and it opens another avenue to legal challenges against that widely used (and often abused) practice by which states and local governments can seize cars, cash, homes, and pretty much anything else that is suspected of being used to commit a crime.

The case before the Supreme Court, Timbs v. Indiana, involved the seizure of a $42,000 Land Rover SUV from Tyson Timbs, who was arrested in 2015 for selling heroin to undercover police officers. He pleaded guilty to his crimes and was sentenced to one year of house arrest and five years of probation. On top of that, the state of Indiana seized his 2012 Land Rover—which he had purchased with money received from his late father's life insurance payout, not with the proceeds of drug sales—on the ground that it had been used to commit a crime.

 

Timbs challenged that seizure, arguing that taking his vehicle amounted to an additional fine on top of the sentence he had already received. The Indiana Supreme Court rejected that argument, solely because the U.S. Supreme Court had never explicitly stated that the Eighth Amendment applied to the states.

On Wednesday, the high court did exactly that.

"For good reason, the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history," wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the opinion. "Excessive fines can be used, for example, to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies," she wrote, or can become sources of revenue disconnected from the criminal justice system.

Indeed, some local governments do use fines and fees as a means to raise revenue, and that has created a perverse incentive to target residents. After the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a federal investigation into the city government found that 20 percent of its general fund came from criminal fines. And Ferguson is not alone in relying heavily on revenue from fines. Making clear that the Eighth Amendment applies to the states will make it far easier to challenge unreasonable fines and fees—including not just asset forfeiture cases, but also situations where local governments hit homeowners with massive civil penalties for offenses such as unapproved paint jobs or Halloween decorations.

Some of those cases are already getting teed up. As C.J. Ciaramella wrote in this month's issue of Reason, a federal class action civil rights lawsuit challenging the aggressive asset forfeiture program in Wayne County, Michigan, that was filed in December argues that the county's seizure of a 2015 Kia Soul after the owner was caught with $10 of marijuana should be deemed an excessive fine.

More broadly, Timbs is a good reminder of how ridiculous the argument in favor of civil asset forfeiture really is. During oral arguments in November, Indiana's solicitor general got boxed into a corner by Justice Stephen Breyer, who managed to twist the government's lawyer into arguing that Indiana should be allowed to seize vehicles for as small an offense as driving 5 mph over the speed limit, which literally elicited laughter in the courtroom.

After Wednesday's ruling, there's a better chance that more civil asset forfeiture cases will be laughed right out of court for being what they obviously are: unconstitutional, excessive punishments that don't fit the crime.

 

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In somewhat related news: Michigan May Stop Police From Seizing Property Without Getting a Conviction First: http://reason.com/blog/2019/02/26/michigan-may-stop-police-from-seizing-pr

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In 2017, Michigan police seized property from nearly 1,000 people who were never convicted of a crime. Some of them were never even arrested.

Those numbers—the result of new reporting requirements passed by the state in 2015—have spurred a bipartisan push among Michigan lawmakers to further restrict the practice of civil asset forfeiture, which allows police to seize cash and property suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner is never convicted, or sometimes never charged, with a crime.

The Michigan Senate passed a civil asset forfeiture reform bill last week that would require police to obtain a criminal conviction to seize assets valued under $50,000, or consent from the owner to relinquish the property. The bill is now being considered by the state house.

.....

Two changes to Michigan law, Nelson says, "opened the floodgates" for civil asset forfeiture in the state. in 2008, Michigan legalized medical marijuana, and police began zealously going after violators—and their property, no matter how loosely connected to drug sales—for forfeiture. Then in 2011, Michigan removed the requirement that forfeiture revenue only fund narcotics enforcement, allowing it to be used for general police budgets with minimal oversight.

"Going around the state and listening to people, [police] were seizing things like money out of birthday cards and lawnmowers, which to me went against the proceeds aspect," Nelson says. "To me, it's not the same thing."

In one case, Nelson says police seized a man and woman's property because their son was growing marijuana close to their house.

"It led [police] to push the law to the edges of what they could do," Nelson continued. "It could be easily abused, and it was being stretched as far as it could possibly be stretched."

According to Skorup's data, for instance, the Wayne State University Police Department seized $9 in cash in a 2017 case that never resulted in a criminal conviction. The Roseville Police Department seized $5 and a cell phone in another case that ultimately did end in a conviction.

While the reporting requirements passed in Michigan in 2015 track what police departments seize, it doesn't track what they spend it on. The head prosecutor of Macomb County, Michigan, is currently under scrutiny from county officials after a public records lawsuit revealed more than $100,000 in questionable expenditures, including using forfeiture funds for office furniture, birthdays, and retirement parties.

More than half of all states have passed some form of asset forfeiture reform in the past decade. Police have often opposed those reforms, saying asset forfeiture is a vital tool to disrupt drug trafficking.

Skorup says that, while there are large seizures that net huge amounts of cash, the data shows that it's used most often against petty amounts of money and people who have few resources to defend themselves, rather than El Chapo.

Of the total 2,078 cash seizures by Michigan law enforcement in 2017, the median value was $396, and the average value was $2,042. Overall, Michigan police seized $1.7 million in cash that was not accompanied by a criminal conviction.

"If you look at these files, we're not talking about a couple of flashy cases," he says. "We're talking about hundreds and hundreds of people that are never charged, or even hundreds more where they're charged, found not guilty, and the law enforcement proceeds with the forfeiture anyways."

Welcome news.  I hope this legislation passes.

 

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Indiana Is Still Arguing That It's Constitutional To Seize Your Car for Driving 5 MPH Over the Speed Limit: https://reason.com/2019/07/03/indiana-is-still-arguing-that-its-constitutional-to-seize-your-car-for-driving-5-mph-over-the-speed-limit/

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After losing at the U.S Supreme Court, the state of Indiana still hasn't given up its argument that there are virtually no Eighth Amendment limits on what it can seize using civil asset forfeiture.

In oral arguments before the Indiana Supreme Court last week, Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher said the state's position that it would be constitutional to seize any and every car that went over the speed limit—a line of argument that elicited laughter from the nation's highest court last year—hasn't budged.

"This is the position that we already staked out in the Supreme Court when I was asked by Justice Breyer whether a Bugatti can be forfeited for going over five miles over the speed limit," Fisher said. "Historically the answer to that question is yes, and we're sticking with that position here."

The Indiana Supreme Court is now reconsidering the case of Tyson Timbs' $42,000 Land Rover, and whether the state's 2015 seizure of Timbs' car after he was convicted of a drug felony violated his Eighth Amendment protections against excessive fines and fees.

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Indiana Supreme Court's ruling that Timbs could not challenge the seizure on Eighth Amendment grounds because the excessive fines clause had not yet been applied, or "incorporated," to the states.

The ruling opened up a new avenue for civil liberties groups to challenge asset forfeiture. It also demonstrated the immense power of the practice, which allows police to seize and forfeit property suspected of being connected to criminal activity. The Indiana Supreme Court will now have to decide how to determine whether a civil forfeiture is excessive or not, a decision that could either check or reinforce the state government's power in these cases.

Lawyers for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm, argue that the seizure of Timbs' Land Rover, which was not purchased with drug proceeds and was worth four times the maximum fine for the crime Timbs committed, was a grossly disproportional punishment.

After the Indiana Supreme Court ruled against Timbs, the Institute for Justice successfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

During oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court last year, Fisher argued on behalf of Indiana that the excessive fines clause, even if it applied to the states, did not apply to the practice of civil asset forfeiture, which operates under the legal fiction that it is an action against the property itself, not the owner.

Both the liberal and conservative wings of the Supreme Court have expressed skepticism about civil asset forfeiture in past rulings, and they were not impressed by Indiana's argument. 

Justice Stephen Breyer, following Fisher's logic to its natural conclusion, forced Fisher to admit that it would then be constitutional to seize any car going over the speed limit, no matter how slight the infraction or how expensive.

 

TimbsBreyer2.jpg U.S. Supreme Court

 

TimbsBreyer.jpg U.S. Supreme Court

The state of Indiana, although forced to recognize that the Eighth Amendment applies to civil forfeiture, now insists that the test that should apply to determine whether the seizure was excessive is not the proportionality, but rather whether the government can prove a nexus between Timbs' car and the illegal activity—a standard that would put virtually no check on the amount of property police could seize as long there was some connection to a crime.

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Loretta Rush pressed Fisher again on this point: "So where's the limits? If the state decides you're going over x miles per hour so we're going to take your car, is there any limit to that government power?"

"No, look, I've gone out on a limb on the Bugatti, and I don't think I'm going back," Fisher responded.

Institute for Justice lawyer Sam Gedge says in a statement to Reason that Indiana "has resorted to an increasingly dangerous view of governmental power" over the years it has been fighting to keep Timbs' car.

"In the State's view, it can constitutionally forfeit a Bugatti that goes five miles over the speed limit. And the State insists that it can take any property from any person who has ever struggled with drug addiction," Gedge says. "That boundless view of governmental power cannot be squared with the Constitution."

Why this government lust for taking and individuals property?  Is the state after a certain time able to keep or sell these assets?   Is the state of Indiana really that hard up for cash?

 

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State laws should take precedent.  Local control is always better

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7 hours ago, BARRYOSAMA said:

State laws should take precedent.  Local control is always better

Please. Go look up “Supremacy Clause.” 

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10 hours ago, BARRYOSAMA said:

State laws should take precedent.  Local control is always better

I generally agree.  But that also means state and local laws should be scrutinized just as much if not more that federal laws.

 

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4 hours ago, Bobref said:

Please. Go look up “Supremacy Clause.” 

More like "Conspiracy Clause"

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