A Reexamination of Civil Asset Forfeiture

Consider this, your friend’s car breaks down, and he asks you to borrow yours. Like a good friend, you lend him your keys. A couple hours later you find out he was pulled over with drugs in the vehicle. You are not charged with a crime, but next thing you know, you get a notice from the State that it is seeking to forfeit your vehicle. Welcome to the little understood world of civil asset forfeiture, the legality of which the United States Supreme Court will consider next month.

Background

In Timbs v. Indiana, Tyson Timbs used life insurance proceeds to purchase himself a Land Rover. He later drove this vehicle when he sold heroin to an undercover officer for $225. Timbs was arrested, and ultimately pled guilty to dealing in a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit theft. For the convictions, he faced up to $10,000 in fines. The state of Indiana also sought forfeiture of the Land Rover, despite the legitimate purchase of the Land Rover. The lower Indiana courts found forfeiture would violate the “Excessive Fines” Clause of the Eighth Amendment in that the loss of the vehicle—valued at $40,000—was greater than any criminal fine that could be imposed. The Indiana Supreme Court reversed, holding the Excessive Fines Clause did not apply to the states. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari—agreed to hear arguments on the issue.

Implications

Distilled down, Timbs v. Indiana will determine whether the Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated—meaning whether it applies to the states. But the implications of Timbs are more expansive, potentially determining when, and placing additional restrictions on, law enforcement’s ability to seek forfeiture of assets not derived illicitly.

Conclusion

Civil asset forfeiture has numerous critics on both the left and the right. While the states currently have broad circumstances when they can seek forfeiture, people retain a number of legal defenses. undefinedIf you, or someone you know, is charged in a criminal case, or have had civil asset forfeiture proceedings commenced in North Dakota or Minnesota, do not hesitate to contact the Vogel Law Firm at 701-237-6983, or send an email at dhushka@vogellaw.com.

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