Supreme Court affirms Land Rover forfeiture in drug case

The state of Indiana can move forward with its plan to seize a Land Rover worth more than $40,000 from a convicted heroin dealer after the Indiana Supreme Court ruled the Eighth Amendment does not bar the state from making such a forfeiture.

The justices handed down that decision Thursday in State of Indiana v. Tyson Timbs, 27S04-1702-MI-70. That case began in January 2013, when Tyson Timbs used his father’s life insurance proceeds to purchase a Land Rover for roughly $42,000.

Timbs then used the Land Rover to buy and transport heroin throughout Marion until he was arrested as part of a series of controlled buys. The Land Rover had 1,237 miles on its odometer when Timbs purchased it, but by the time police seized it in May 2013, it had more than 17,000 miles.

In 2015, Timbs pleaded guilty to Class B felony dealing and Class D felony conspiracy to commit theft in exchange for the state dismissing a third charge against him. The Grant Superior Court sentenced Timbs to six years, with one year executed, while he agreed to pay $1,203 in fees and costs.

The state also moved to seize the Land Rover through civil forfeiture, but the trial court denied that action, finding the forfeiture would be an excessive fine under the Eighth Amendment. The court noted that the maximum fine for Timbs’ Class B felony was $10,000, but the vehicle was worth roughly four times that amount.

A divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld that decision in October 2016, with Judge Michael Barnes dissenting. But after hearing oral arguments in March, the Supreme Court upheld the state’s forfeiture action.

Justice Geoffrey Slaughter, who wrote for the unanimous panel of justices, first wrote in his Thursday opinion that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause has not been applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court noted in McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742, 761-63 (2010) that the excessive fines clause has not been incorporated to the states, and Slaughter wrote the Indiana high court declined to “subject Indiana to a federal test that may operate to impede development of our own excessive-fines jurisprudence under the Indiana Constitution.”

“To be clear, our decision on incorporation should not be read to prejudge the merits of pending or prospective forfeiture challenges based on other provisions of state or federal law,” Slaughter continued. “Our narrow holding here is confined to the Court of Appeals’ reliance on a provision of the United States Constitution – the Excessive Fines Clause – that the Supreme Court has never enforced against the States.”

Slaughter then went on to write the state proved it was entitled to forfeit the Land Rover under the statutory provisions in Indiana Code Section 34-24-1-1 (Supp. 2012) by proving that Timbs used the vehicle to transport and possess heroin to engage in illegal trafficking. Thus, the trial court’s decision was reversed, and the case was remanded to enter judgment for the state on its forfeiture complaint.

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