On February 20, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Excessive Fines Clause in the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies to civil forfeitures resulting from state criminal prosecutions. Timbs v. Indiana, __ U.S. __, No. 17-1091, (U.S. Feb. 20, 2019).
Minnesota, like most states, has civil forfeiture laws that allow the state to permanently take property from you when that property is used in connection with the commission of a crime. For example, Minn. Stat. 609.5314 permits the state to take money, precious metals, or precious stones if they are found in close proximity to controlled substances. Similarly, under Minn. Stat. 169A.63 the state can take your motor vehicle if a you are convicted of driving under the influence.
In Timbs v. Indiana, the Supreme Court of the United States was asked whether the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the imposition of excessive fines, forbids or limits these types of civil forfeiture practices. In that case, the State of Indiana seized a vehicle valued at $42,000 from Tyson Timbs after he was arrested for, in part, dealing in controlled substances. After Tibbs pleaded guilty, the State of Indiana asked that the vehicle be forfeited to the State. The trial court denied that request, however, on the grounds that the forfeiture of $42,000 in property was grossly disproportionate to the maximum fine that could be imposed for dealing in controlled substances, which was only $10,000. The State appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, which permitted the State to take the vehicle, ruling that the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on excessive fines applied only to federal actions, not to state civil forfeiture actions.
In a brief opinion, the United States Supreme Court firmly rejected the ruling of the Indiana Supreme Court and held that the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on excessive fines applies with full force to state civil forfeiture actions. As a result, today’s decision in Timbs v. Indiana opens the door to new challenges to Minnesota’s civil and criminal forfeiture laws.
If you are currently facing civil forfeiture of property, or have previously been the subject of a forfeiture, please contact the Wilson Law Group to discuss your matter.