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Vehicle Seized in Civil Forfeiture Returned to Owner After 7 Years

Vehicle Seized in Civil Forfeiture Returned to Owner After 7 Years

After 7 years, Tyson Timbs has finally retaken possession of his $42,000 Land Rover, originally confiscated through the process of civil forfeiture. At the time of the seizure, Timbs vehicle was worth far more than the fees Timbs owed as part of his sentence for Class B felony dealing and Class D felony conspiracy to commit theft, totaling $1,203. Further, the value of the vehicle was over 4 times the maximum statutory fine of $10,000 for a case such as Timbs’. However, after convincing arguments made by the Institute for Justice, and a ruling by the United States Supreme Court, which led to the case being remanded to the Indiana Supreme Court for a determination of whether this was an excessive fine as defined by the 8th Amendment, Grant County Superior Court has finally released the vehicle back into Timbs’ possession. Acting as local counsel, our founder, Lee McNeely, and associate attorney Scott A. Milkey assisted with the matter. Scott helped with the preparation for the hearing at which Timbs was finally given back his Land Rover.

Timbs’ case began with charges of dealing and theft in Grant County. When his vehicle was seized, Grant County agreed that the forfeiture was disproportionate to the crime. However, the State appealed, proceedings making it all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, resulting in the Indiana Supreme Court ruling that the states had not incorporated the 8th Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. After SCOTUS issued an opinion which unanimously ruled that the Excessive Fines Clause had been incorporated, the Indiana Supreme Court classified the forfeiture of Timbs’ vehicle as a fine, which brought it under the 8th Amendment, but the Court left the question of whether that fine was excessive up to the Grant County Superior Court. As part of its opinion, the Indiana Supreme Court also developed a framework for trial courts to follow in determining whether a specific fine should be considered “excessive” under the 8th Amendment. Specifically, the Court stated that, “[a] use-based fine must meet two requirements (1) the property is the actual means by which an underlying offense was committed; and (2) the harshness of the forfeiture penalty must not be grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense and the claimant’s culpability for the property’s misuse.” Further, Chief Justice Rush stated that the standard for gross-disproportionality for reviewing civil forfeiture includes three non-exclusive factors: harshness of punishment, including property owner’s economic means; severity of offenses; and claimant’s culpability.

Grant County Superior Court determined that the civil forfeiture that deprived Timbs of his vehicle was unjust and disproportionate. Congratulations Mr. Timbs and congratulations to Lee and Scott for their hard work on this case!

This McNeelyLaw LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion of any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.

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