Civil forfeiture of a heroin dealer’s Land Rover purportedly worth about $40,000 would be an unconstitutionally excessive fine, the majority of an Indiana Court of Appeals panel ruled Thursday, but a dissenting judge wrote that it shouldn’t matter whether the dealer used a shiny new car or a “beater” to facilitate his drug trade.
Tyson Timbs of Marion pleaded guilty to two counts of Class B felony dealing in a controlled substance and one count of Class D felony conspiracy to commit theft after law enforcement agents made controlled purchases of heroin from him. Timbs used a 2012 Land Rover he purchased with proceeds from his father’s life insurance to transport the drug from a pickup point in Richmond in January 2013.
After Timbs pleaded guilty last year, the state filed a civil forfeiture action seeking to seize the Land Rover that was used to facilitate the drug deals, but the trial court denied the motion citing the statutory cap on fines of $10,000. Writing for the majority joined by Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik, Judge Paul Mathias denied the State’s appeal and said the trial court was correct: forfeiture of the vehicle would violate Eighth Amendment prohibitions on excessive fines. Forfeiture would have been grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Timbs’s offense, the majority held.
“Here, the evidence before the trial court was that Timbs’s vehicle was worth approximately four times the amount of the maximum fine. Although we do not suggest that forfeiture of any asset valued over the maximum fine is automatically a violation of the Excessive Fines Clause, it is instructive to our analysis that the value of the asset sought by the state is well in excess of the maximum fine,” Mathias wrote. “Moreover, it is undisputed that the Land Rover was not purchased with the proceeds of any criminal behavior; it was purchased with life insurance proceeds.”
Judge Michael Barnes would have decided the case for the state and allowed seizure of the Land Rover. “The vehicle did not have only a tangential relationship to the crime or the defendant. It should not matter that Timbs committed the crime using an expensive new Land Rover rather than an old, inexpensive ‘beater,’” he wrote.
Barnes noted the concern about overreach in civil forfeitures some law enforcement agencies have used. “However, it seems to me that one who deals heroin, and there is no doubt from the record we are talking about a dealer, must and should suffer the legal consequences to which he exposes himself.”
The case is State of Indiana v. Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2, 27A04-1511-MI-1976