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Timbs v. Indiana

United States Supreme Court

February 20, 2019

TYSON TIMBS, PETITIONER
v.
INDIANA

          Argued November 28, 2018

          On Writ Of Certiorari To The Supreme Court Of Indiana

          C. J., and Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, JJ., joined.

         Tyson Timbs pleaded guilty in Indiana state court to dealing in a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit theft. At the time of Timbs's arrest, the police seized a Land Rover SUV Timbs had purchased for $42, 000 with money he received from an insurance policy when his father died. The State sought civil forfeiture of Timbs's vehicle, charging that the SUV had been used to transport heroin. Observing that Timbs had recently purchased the vehicle for more than four times the maximum $10, 000 monetary fine assessable against him for his drug conviction, the trial court denied the State's request. The vehicle's forfeiture, the court determined, would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Timbs's offense, and therefore unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause. The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed, but the Indiana Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Excessive Fines Clause constrains only federal action and is inapplicable to state impositions.

         Held: The Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause is an incorporated protection applicable to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Pp. 2-9.

(a) The Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause incorporates and renders applicable to the States Bill of Rights protections "fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty," or "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition." McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742, 767 (alterations omitted). If a Bill of Rights protection is incorporated, there is no daylight between the federal and state conduct it prohibits or requires. Pp. 2-3.
(b) The prohibition embodied in the Excessive Fines Clause carries forward protections found in sources from Magna Carta to the English Bill of Rights to state constitutions from the colonial era to the present day. Protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history for good reason: Such fines undermine other liberties. They can be used, e.g., to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies. They can also be employed, not in service of penal purposes, but as a source of revenue. The historical and logical case for concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause is indeed overwhelming. Pp. 3-7.
(c) Indiana argues that the Clause does not apply to its use of civil in rem forfeitures, but this Court held in Austin v. United States, 509 U.S. 602, that such forfeitures fall within the Clause's protection when they are at least partially punitive. Indiana cannot prevail unless the Court overrules Austin or holds that, in light of Austin, the Excessive Fines Clause is not incorporated because its application to civil in rem forfeitures is neither fundamental nor deeply rooted.

         The first argument, overturning Austin, is not properly before this Court. The Indiana Supreme Court held only that the Excessive Fines Clause did not apply to the States. The court did not address the Clause's application to civil in rem forfeitures, nor did the State ask it to do so. Timbs thus sought this Court's review only of the question whether the Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment. Indiana attempted to reformulate the question to ask whether the Clause restricted States' use of civil in rem forfeitures and argued on the merits that Austin was wrongly decided. Respondents' "right, ... to restate the questions presented," however, "does not give them the power to expand [those] questions," Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, 506 U.S. 263, 279, n. 10 (emphasis deleted), particularly where the proposed reformulation would lead the Court to address a question neither pressed nor passed upon below, cf. Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 718, n. 7.

         The second argument, that the Excessive Fines Clause cannot be incorporated if it applies to civil in rem forfeitures, misapprehends the nature of the incorporation inquiry. In considering whether the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates a Bill of Rights protection, this Court asks whether the right guaranteed-not each and every particular application of that right-is fundamental or deeply rooted. To suggest otherwise is inconsistent with the approach taken in cases concerning novel applications of rights already deemed incorporated. See, e.g., Packingham v. North Carolina, 582 U.S., . The Excessive Fines Clause is thus incorporated regardless of whether application of the Clause to civil in rem forfeitures is itself fundamental or deeply rooted. Pp. 7-9.

         84 N.E. 3d 1179, vacated and remanded.

          OPINION

          GINSBURG JUSTICE

         Tyson Timbs pleaded guilty in Indiana state court to dealing in a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit theft. The trial court sentenced him to one year of home detention and five years of probation, which included a court-supervised addiction-treatment program. The sentence also required Timbs to pay fees and costs totaling $1, 203. At the time of Timbs's arrest, the police seized his vehicle, a Land Rover SUV Timbs had purchased for about $42, 000. Timbs paid for the vehicle with money he received from an insurance policy when his father died.

         The State engaged a private law firm to bring a civil suit for forfeiture of Timbs's Land Rover, charging that the vehicle had been used to transport heroin. After Timbs's guilty plea in the criminal case, the trial court held a hearing on the forfeiture demand. Although finding that Timbs's vehicle had been used to facilitate violation of a criminal statute, the court denied the requested forfeiture, observing that Timbs had recently purchased the vehicle for $42, 000, more than four times the maximum $10, 000 monetary fine assessable against him for his drug conviction. Forfeiture of the Land Rover, the court determined, would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Timbs's offense, hence unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause. The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed that determination, but the Indiana Supreme Court reversed. 84 N.E. 3d 1179 (2017). The Indiana Supreme Court did not decide whether the forfeiture would be excessive. Instead, it held that the Excessive Fines Clause constrains only federal action and is inapplicable to state impositions. We granted certiorari. 585 U.S.__ (2018).

         The question presented: Is the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause an "incorporated" protection applicable to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause? Like the Eighth Amendment's proscriptions of "cruel and unusual punishment" and "[e]xcessive bail," the protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government's punitive or criminal-law-enforcement authority. This safeguard, we hold, is "fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty," with "dee[p] root[s] in [our] history and tradition." McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742, 767 (2010) (internal quotation marks omitted; emphasis deleted). The Excessive Fines Clause is therefore incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

         I

         A

         When ratified in 1791, the Bill of Rights applied only to the Federal Government. Barron ex rel. Tiernan v. Mayor of Baltimore, 7 Pet. 243 (1833). "The constitutional Amendments adopted in the aftermath of the Civil War," however, "fundamentally altered our country's federal system." McDonald, 561 U.S., at 754. With only "a handful" of exceptions, this Court has held that the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause incorporates the protections contained in the Bill of Rights, rendering them applicable to the States. Id., at 764-765, and nn. 12-13. A Bill of Rights protection is incorporated, we have explained, if it is "fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty," or "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition." Id., at 767 (internal quotation marks omitted; emphasis deleted).

         Incorporated Bill of Rights guarantees are "enforced against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment according to the same standards that protect those personal rights against federal encroachment." Id., at 765 (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, if a Bill of Rights protection is incorporated, there is no daylight between the federal and state conduct it prohibits or requires.[1]

         B

         Under the Eighth Amendment, "[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." Taken together, these Clauses place "parallel limitations" on "the power of those entrusted with the criminal-law function of government." Browning-Ferris Industries of Vt., Inc. v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U.S. 257, 263 (1989) (quoting Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 664 (1977)). Directly at issue here is the phrase "nor excessive fines imposed," which "limits the government's power to extract payments, whether in cash or in kind, 'as punishment for some offense.'" United States v. Bajakajian, 524 U.S. 321, 327-328 (1998) (quoting Austin v. United States, 509 U.S. 602, 609-610 (1993)). The Fourteenth Amendment, we hold, incorporates this protection.

         The Excessive Fines Clause traces its venerable lineage back to at least 1215, when Magna Carta guaranteed that "[a] Free-man shall not be amerced for a small fault, but after the manner of the fault; and for a great fault after the greatness thereof, saving to him his contenement §20, 9 Hen. Ill. ch. 14, in 1 Eng. Stat. at Large 5 (1225).[2]As relevant here, Magna Carta required that economic sanctions "be proportioned to the wrong" and "not be so large as to deprive [an offender] of his livelihood." Browning-Ferris, 492 U.S., at 271. See also 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 372 (1769) ("[N]o man shall have a larger amercement imposed upon him, than his circumstances or personal estate will bear . . . ."). But cf. Bajakajian, 524 U.S., at 340, n. 15 (taking no position on the question whether a person's income and wealth are relevant considerations in judging the excessive ness of a fine).

         Despite Magna Carta, imposition of excessive fines persisted. The 17th century Stuart kings, in particular, were criticized for using large fines to raise revenue, harass their political foes, and indefinitely detain those unable to pay. E.g., The Grand Remonstrance ¶¶I7, 34 (1641), in The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution 1625-1660, pp. 210, 212 (S. Gardiner ed., 3d ed. rev. 1906); Browning-Ferris, 492 U.S., at 267. When James II was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution, the attendant English Bill of Rights reaffirmed Magna Carta's guarantee by providing that "excessive Bail ought not to be required, nor excessive Fines imposed; nor cruel and unusual Punishments inflicted." 1 Wm. & Mary, ch. 2, §10, in 3 Eng. Stat. at Large 441 (1689).

         Across the Atlantic, this familiar language was adopted almost verbatim, first in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, then in the Eighth Amendment, which states: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

         Adoption of the Excessive Fines Clause was in tune not only with English law; the Clause resonated as well with similar colonialera provisions. See, e.g., Pa. Frame of Govt., Laws Agreed Upon in England, Art. XVIII (1682), in 5 Federal and State Constitutions 3061 (F. Thorpe ed. 1909) ("[A] 11 fines shall be moderate, and saving men's contenements, merchandize, or wainage."). In 1787, the constitutions of eight States-accounting for 70% of the U.S. population-forbade ...


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