Will the Supreme Court Rein in 'Excessive Fines' and Forfeitures?: Don’t Rely on Timbs v. Indiana
Federal Sentencing Reporter, Volume 32, Issue 1 (Oct. 2019)
8 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2019 Last revised: 23 Jan 2020
Date Written: October 2, 2019
The Supreme Court’s decision in Timbs v. Indiana, 139 S. Ct. 682 (2019), last term buoyed the hopes of those who saw it as a powerful signal to states and municipalities to rein in excessive fines, fees, and forfeitures. Yet, the Court seems disinclined to fill the term “proportionality” with robust meaning or wrestle with Eighth Amendment challenges to fines and fees. Those steps would be required for the Excessive Fines Clause to function as an effective backstop against revenue-raising and increasingly abusive local and state practices. In the end, state courts and state legislative changes may more likely address effectively the essential question of what is excessive and restrain criminal justice actors from imposing ever heavier financial burdens on those caught up in the system.
This article first sets out the Supreme Court’s decision in Timbs in light of the incorporation debate and prior case law in the area. Next it turns to the underlying but unaddressed contours of “excessive” in the context of fines and forfeitures. The article then provides a broader look at forfeiture, including the interplay between state and federal law enforcement in the area. Finally, the piece addresses state and local fines and fees, which will now be subject to Eighth Amendment analysis. The Court, however, rejected the first opportunity to take up such a challenge. At least for now, litigants may be more successful in reining in abusive fines and forfeitures in state legislatures and state courts.
Keywords: Timbs, Indiana, SCOTUS, Supreme Court of the United States, fines, fees, forfeitures, Eighth Amendment, excessive
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