United States Supreme Court Holds Civil Forfeiture Law Violates the Constitution

Posted on 20 February, 2019 at 14:20

The Supreme Court of the United States has issued a ruling on the constitutionality of civil forfeiture laws. Civil forfeiture laws allow for private property to be seized and forfeited to the government when the property has been used in a crime. Over the years, the civil forfeiture laws have been used to raise significant revenue for states and municipalities. As the use of these laws has increased, so has its criticism. Many have argued that the laws have been abused in order to raise revenue. 

The case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court involved an individual in Indiana who pled guilty to selling $225 worth of heroin to undercover officers. The State of Indiana, however, seized the defendant's $42,000 Land Rover which was purchased with money from his father's life insurance policy. The defendant argued that the seizure of the car violated the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment. The State argued that the Land Rover was used in the commission of the crime and therefore could be seized under the law. The State's position was that there was no limit on what was seized because the excessive fines clause did not apply to the individal states.

The case was taken to the Indiana Supreme Court which ruled that the Eighth Amendement excessive fines clause did not apply to state government. The defendant petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case and the court granted certiorari. 

According ot the New York Times, the U.S. Supreme Court has now held that the Eighth Amendment's excessive fines clause does apply to the states. As such, when a civil forfeiture is utilized, the property seized cannot be disproportionate to the crime. This decision will now limit the ability of states to seize private property under civil asset forfeiture laws. 

Written by:   Alexandra Siskopoulos, Esq.

Telephone:   (646) 942-1798

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