Timbs forfeiture case back in trial court for excessiveness ruling

Little more than a year after the United States Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision incorporating to the states the Eight Amendment protection against excessive fines, the Grant County man who bears the name of the case is headed back to trial.

This time, when Marion resident Tyson Timbs appears in Grant Superior Court, he will use the decision in Timbs v. Indiana, 586 U.S. ___ (2019), to support the return of his $42,000 Land Rover. The SUV was seized in 2013 after he was charged with, and eventually convicted on, felony dealing and conspiracy to commit theft charges.

The case of State of Indiana v. Tyson Timbs, 27D01-1308-MI-92, will return to Grant Superior Judge Jeffrey D. Todd at 10 a.m. Friday. Todd is getting the case on remand from the Indiana Supreme Court, which has ordered him to evaluate the forfeiture of the Rover for excessiveness under SCOTUS precedent.

The state justices’ October 2019 remand to the trial court marked the second time the Hoosier high court ruled in Timbs’ case.

The first was in November 2017, when the state justices determined the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause had not been incorporated to the states. That ruling was a reversal of both the trial court and the Indiana Court of Appeals, which had held that forfeiting the $42,000 SUV was disproportional to Timbs’ crimes.

Speaking with Indiana Lawyer in 2019, Justice Geoffrey Slaughter, author of the 2017 Timbs decision, said the state court thought it best to allow SCOTUS to clarify the Eighth Amendment incorporation question.

That clarity came after the nation’s high court heard arguments in November 2018. The February 2019 ruling was unanimous, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authoring the decision that remanded the case to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Todd will hold an evidentiary hearing Friday morning, with Timbs represented by attorneys with the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, which also argued on his behalf before the U.S. and Indiana Supreme Courts. The Rover has not been returned to Timbs since its initial 2013 seizure.

“Since pleading guilty, Timbs has turned his life around,” IJ said in a news release ahead of the Friday hearing. “He has remained off drugs, he holds a full-time job and he participates in regular counseling, while also counseling others on how to stay clean. All of this effort has proven immeasurably harder with the loss of his vehicle.”

The various Timbs rulings have been handed down in an environment of major legislative change to Indiana’s civil forfeiture policies.

The Indiana General Assembly in 2018 passed a civil forfeiture reform bill that created additional due process protections for property owners. The legislation also developed a formula for the disbursement of civil forfeiture proceeds, with portions of the proceeds going to law enforcement and prosecutorial costs before being deposited into the Common School Fund.

But that disbursement process was the subject of another Indiana Supreme Court case brought by the Institute for Justice, Jeana M. Horner, et al. v. Terry R. Curry, et al., 18S-PL-333.

The Institute’s lawyers had argued Article 8, Section 2 of the Indiana Constitution required all forfeiture proceeds to go into the Common School Fund. The court, however, allowed the continued diversion of funds to law enforcement costs.

Only justices Mark Massa and Christopher Goff concurred fully in the Horner decision. Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Geoffrey Slaughter each wrote separately, while Justice Steven David partially joined Rush’s separate opinion. Rush was the only member of the court to dissent from a portion of the majority opinion.

The state has been represented in the Timbs proceedings by the Office of the Attorney General, with Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher arguing before the supreme courts. Also listed on the trial court record as counsel for the state is the Carmel firm Cate, Terry & Gookins.

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