Criminal Justice

Timbs v. Indiana

In Timbs v. Indiana, the Supreme Court is considering whether state governments must comply with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “excessive fines.”

In Brief

The 14th Amendment was ratified to ensure that the individual liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights—including the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee of freedom from excessive fines—would be protected against infringement by state governments as well as the federal government.
The U.S. Supreme Court has already held that most of the protections in the Bill of Rights apply to the states through the 14th Amendment, but it has not specifically ruled on the Excessive Fines Clause.
The U.S. Supreme Court should rule that states may not impose constitutionally excessive fines in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Case Summary

After Tyson Timbs pleaded guilty to drug offenses in Indiana, the state initiated civil forfeiture proceedings to take ownership of his Land Rover, alleging that he had used the vehicle during his crimes. An Indiana trial court held that forfeiting the vehicle would be “grossly disproportional” to the gravity of Timbs’s offenses, for which he had been sentenced only to home detention and probation, and that the forfeiture was therefore unconstitutional under the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment. The Indiana Supreme Court reversed this decision and reinstated the forfeiture. It did so not because it concluded that the fine was commensurate with the offense but rather because it concluded that Indiana is not bound by the limits of the Excessive Fines Clause.

CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to hear Timbs’s case. As our brief explained, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified to ensure that the individual liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights—including the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee of freedom from excessive fines—would be protected against infringement by state governments as well as by the federal government. Indeed, the Fourteenth Amendment was a response to notorious violations of fundamental liberties by the states before and after the Civil War. In the wake of the emancipation of slaves, Southern states enacted oppressive laws known as Black Codes in an attempt to replicate the conditions of slavery. As the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment were keenly aware, these laws abridged the property rights of former slaves and imposed severe criminal penalties on them, including outlandish fines, in order to coerce them back into the plantation labor system. The Fourteenth Amendment was meant to combat these injustices by applying the restrictions of the Bill of Rights to the states—a transformation of the nation’s federal system.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has already held that most of the protections in the Bill of Rights apply to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, it has not specifically ruled on the Excessive Fines Clause. Seizing on that point, the Indiana Supreme Court announced that it would “decline” to impose “a federal test” on Indiana in the absence of a direct command by the U.S. Supreme Court. In doing so, our brief argued, the Indiana Supreme Court abdicated its responsibility to enforce the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The court granted certiorari on Timbs’ petition, and the Court will likely hear oral argument in the case later this year.

Case Timeline

  • March 5, 2018

    CAC files cert-stage amicus brief

    U.S. Sup. Ct. Amicus Brief
  • May 4, 2018

    Indiana files brief in opposition to Timbs’ certiorari petition

  • May 16, 2018

    Timbs files reply in response to Indiana’s opposition

  • June 18, 2018

    Supreme Court grants certiorari

More from Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice
July 16, 2018

Keeping Cops’ Hands Out of Your Pockets

The American Conservative
Finally, a case that might put a real crimp into civil asset forfeiture abuse.
Criminal Justice
June 22, 2018

RELEASE: Victory for the Fourth Amendment in Carpenter

“While the Framers of the Fourth Amendment could not have anticipated cell-phone technology, they deliberately...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra
Criminal Justice
U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts

Alasaad v. Nielsen

In Alasaad v. Nielsen, the district court for the District of Massachusetts is considering whether the First and Fourth Amendments permit law enforcement officers—without a warrant, probable cause, or even reasonable suspicion of illegal activity—to...
Criminal Justice
November 30, 2017

Where Are We with Location Privacy? Reactions to the Supreme Court’s Oral Argument in Carpenter v. United States

Host: American Bar Association
The privacy of cell phone location information and free speech will be the focus of...
Participants: Elizabeth B. Wydra, Alan Jay Butler, Dan Schweitzer, Jake Laperruque
Criminal Justice
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Walker v. City of Calhoun

In Walker v. City of Calhoun, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is considering whether the City’s use of a secured money bail system for misdemeanor offenders violates the Equal Protection...
Criminal Justice
U.S. Supreme Court

Tyler v. United States

In Tyler v. United States, the Supreme Court is being asked to consider whether the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits any person from being prosecuted for the same offense more than...