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Understanding asset forfeiture

On Behalf of | Jul 1, 2019 | Drug Crimes, Firm News

At Herbert Weston & Tanya Weston Criminal Lawyers in California, our mission is to aggressively defend the rights of people accused of having committed a crime. We consequently know that in some such situations the state government swoops in and seizes your assets. Often they do this even if the prosecutor fails to convict you of the alleged crime.

As reported in the New York Times, this practice of asset forfeiture goes by the name “policing for profit.” The government then sells your assets and keeps the profits therefrom. Now, however, the U.S. Supreme Court has called a halt to this practice that some have termed legalized theft. In Timbs v. Indiana, the Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits states from imposing excessive civil fines relating to alleged criminal activity.

Historical significance

Per the Bill of Rights, governmental prohibitions apply only to the federal government. Despite the Fourteenth Amendment that extended these prohibitions to the states, the Court itself never applied them en masse, but only piecemeal.

In the Timbs case, Indiana charged Timbs with allegedly selling heroin to an undercover law enforcement officer. He pleaded guilty and received a penalty that included a $1,203 fee. The State of Indiana subsequently seized Timbs’s Land Rover worth approximately $42,000, far exceeding the value of the heroin he allegedly sold to the undercover officer.

In her majority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg stated as follows: “[T]he historical and logical case for concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause is overwhelming.” Consequently, states can no longer engage in the practice of making exceedingly large asset forfeitures and your assets are safe from governmental seizure.

For additional information, please visit this page on our website.