SCOTUS Unanimously Rules Against Civil Asset Forfeiture

Decision a victory against states imposing excessive fines, seizure of property

Image Credits: MANDEL NGAN / Contributor / Getty.

The Supreme Court unanimously curbed the power of local governments to seize private property without a conviction.

The nation’s highest court invoked the Constitution’s prohibition on excessive fines in Wednesday’s 9-0 decision, according to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s majority opinion.

“Protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history for good reason: Such fines undermine other liberties,” said Ginsburg. “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 ruling stems from an Indiana case where the local court seized a man’s $42,000 Land Rover after he pleaded guilty to a crime that had the maximum fine of $10,000, one-fourth the value of the vehicle.

Prosecutors reportedly wanted to take the vehicle because they claimed the man used it to transport drugs.

Interestingly, Justice Clarance Thomas reached the same conclusion as Ginsburg but disagreed with her rationale.

“I cannot agree with the route the Court takes to reach this conclusion,” said Thomas. “I would hold that the right to be free from excessive fines is one of the ‘privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States’ protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The case went to the Supreme Court in the first place because the Indiana court reportedly refused to extend the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines to a local level.

As such, this is the first time the court has applied the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines at the state level, according to Fox News.

The historical importance of the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights were referenced in the decision.

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