WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court began hearings on a major case involving Eighth Amendment rights. The man behind that case is a recovered drug addict from Indiana.
In 2013, Tyson Timbs, from Marion, pleaded guilty to selling less than $400 worth of heroin to undercover officers.
In the process, the government seized his 2012 Land Rover in a civil forfeiture, a punishment Timbs says doesn’t fit the crime.
“This case is about more than just a truck,” said senior attorney Wesley Hottot with the Institute for Justice, who is representing Timbs in the case. “This case is about whether 330 million Americans coast to coast enjoy the protections of the Bill of Rights”
The case has become much less about the expensive car, and more about the Eighth Amendment, which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
Hottot and the Institute for Justice argue that under Indiana law, the maximum fine for this particular penalty is $10,000. Timbs says he paid more than $40,000 for the car, therefore by seizing it the government violated the U.S. Constitution.
“Nothing about our argument prevents the government from imposing serious fines for serious crimes,” Hottot said. “Our argument is that there are limits of what the government can take.”
Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher is arguing that the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment doesn’t apply to states when it comes to forfeitures. Before he left for Washington, he spoke with CBS4 at his office.
“If the rule were the more expensive car you drive, the less chance you have to face forfeiture, I think that would set the wrong incentives,” Fisher said.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Timbs and his lawyers felt optimistic.
“It went very well for us, it went much as expected,” Hottot said. “The court had some difficult questions as to what was on the other side of this decision, but they seemed persuaded. We’re confident that the excessive fines clause applies to the states and that’s all we need here.”
Several justices asked tough questions of the solicitor general, leading to speculation that the court will ultimately rule in Timb’s favor. Hottot said he expects a decision before June..