Washington, DC – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Wednesday that seizing a drug dealer's car is an excessive fine, and the 8th Amendment’s protections against excessive fines do apply to the states.
The case was brought to the highest court in the land by Tyson Timbs, a heroin dealer whose $42,000 Land Rover was seized when he was arrested for dealing drugs out of it in Indiana, CNBC reported.
Timbs pleaded guilty to selling heroin to an undercover officer in Indiana and was sentenced to a year of home confinement, five years of probation, and $1,000 in fines and fees.
But the state also kept his Land Rover which was valued at four times the maximum monetary fine allowed by law for his conviction, CNBC reported.
Both a trial court and an Indiana appeals court ruled the seizure was unlawful because it was disproportionate to the offense.
But the Indiana Supreme Court reversed those decisions and said the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on excessive fines did not apply to the states, according to CNBC.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the decision for the court. She said protection from excessive fines dates back to the Magna Carta.
Ginsburg said the prohibition on excessive fines had been added to the Bill of Rights as a “constant shield” against fines being used as a source of revenue or a way to "chill the speech of political enemies," NPR reported.
"Forfeiture of the Land Rover, the court determined, would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Timbs's offense," she wrote.
Ginsberg’s decision was written on the 84 year old's second day back at the court after a two-month hiatus following lung cancer surgery, NPR reported. She is the oldest justice on the Supreme Court.
Most of the Bill of Rights’ protections were incorporated to the states decades ago, including other provisions of the 8th Amendment, such as prohibitions on excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment, CNBC reported.
In her decision, Ginsburg wrote that the 8th Amendment’s protection against excessive fines was "fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty."
The decision was a victory for civil rights’ groups who have long claimed that excessive penalties disproportionately hurt the poor and minorities, CNBC reported.