Supreme Court limits states' abilities to seize property in criminal cases

The court ruled unanimously in the case of Tyson Timbs, a recovering opioid addict whose Land Rover was seized after a felony drug conviction.
6:08 | 02/20/19

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Transcript for Supreme Court limits states' abilities to seize property in criminal cases
The Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous opinion today on a case at Indiana that the the eighth amendment's protection against excessive fines. Applies nationwide believe it or not they hadn't incorporated that are right from the bill of rights all the states they did so today in the case of this man Tyson tends. I think he and I think we have a picture of Tyson 37 year old former OP or addict who was convicted a few years back you see Tyson in the right with his attorney. Wesley hottest. Who argued the case Tyson tens was tried convicted of a small drug offense and the state. Of Indiana seized his 42000. Dollar Land Rover. While Tyson ten said that was in excessive punishment to take his car. And today he won before the Supreme Court and we're joined now by Tyson's attorney. Wesley hot it who joins us from Seattle via Skype is sir great to see you was there on the day he. You argue this case so congratulations. Give us your reaction to the court's decision today. Well thanks for Albanians very gracious that he they're congratulate us. The court today unanimously held. That the federal constitutional protection against excessive fines. Must be applied by state and local authorities. What that means is that state trial judges now have the power indeed beauty. To ensure a nationwide standard. Of excessive nests where police and prosecutors. Although they have the power people's property. There are limits and judges have been directed to enforce those. This this is it's sort of striking because this is such big business across the country. EA UD organization that you are part of an Institute for Justice actually crunch some of the numbers we have them we can put them up here. From just a few years ago the 26 states including the District of Columbia. Gathered seized basically in funds and property more than 254. Million dollars. I just in that year alone this is a huge business. And this case Wesley that this state of Indiana seized Tyson tens Land Rover 42000 dollars because they said. That it was actually a weapon used in a crime a tool used in a crime. And that they were taking it off the streets they were taking it out on him they were simply removing Ive tool. But you argued successfully to the contrary that this Wie was actually part of his personal property. Well that's right I mean look the facts here where that Tyson who lives in rural grant county Indiana. True. At the urging of a confidential informant drove to meet with some undercover officers. And sold them a small amount apparently it was birth. Less than 400 dollars all. And because of that. Really incidental a bet that he drove there I think any investment in an our and a rural county. Might choose drive rapid and cake nonexistent transit or try to walk in the aisles. The government in Indiana decided that they could take his 40000 dollar vehicle kind of secondary punishment. And here five years later Tyson is still. Fighting back tickets after giving everything that was asked. He plead guilty. He served his time. Eight v.s that were imposed on he's gotten clean he's willing job. And yes though the government is kicking him while he's out making all of those things harder. This is the dirty secret of the American criminal justice's. The civil war pitcher allows the government to strip people of their property they've committed crimes. TE. It allows the government mr. people property even without inflicting them out car yeah eight. That. And and just interrupt you there that that's the striking thing that many of our viewers might not know that ends and a lot of these cases of civil lasted for parts of the governor can. Government can simply take your property without. Hearing without extensive due process here's what justice Ginsburg Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote today in the opinion of the court her first opinion since that. Cancer surgery back in December she said the protection against excessive fines. Guards against abuses of government's punitive or criminal law enforcement authority to safeguard we hold is fundamental tore scheme of ordered liberty with deep roots. In our history. In tradition. Ot M Weston before we let you go why what what's the next step here for states you're talking about how this has gone on unchecked for years in many places. What will states now have to do what steps when they have to implement in the wake of this decision. Well there's a practical impact. And there is a more and he months impact on the law on the practical impact is that Indiana and the three other states that currently project. The excessive fines protection we'll have to start enforcing it. But the more nuanced impact the long term impact that we hoped to litigate Wendy in front of the Supreme Court. Is what is an excessive fines or forfeiture. And I think that the Supreme Court today announced unanimously that he cares about that question and it's going to police civil forfeiture and future. We look forward to bring the cases that asked exactly where that line it. This yeah they didn't say they didn't set that line in this case they didn't put that language in in the opinion as you said very broad. Take so much Wesley how to do have to ask you before let you go did is a Tyson tens gonna get that Land Rover back. Woolsey. It depends aren't what the state. The Indiana watts did you do they want to fight for this truck or they want to just give it back to Tyson. I'm and it and so what the Indiana Supreme Court wants to do in light of the US supreme court's ruling. Whatever it takes we'll stand shoulder shoulder price in the picture he gets struck back. All right Wesley how to joining us via Skype from Seattle the the council of Tyson tends the Indiana man who won today before the Supreme Court setting. In a unanimous opinion a new rule nationwide. You pretty net in place a check against a state power to seize private property.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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