MARION, Ind. (AP) — An Indiana man who pleaded guilty to selling heroin is challenging the state’s civil forfeiture process after the government seized his vehicle, which was worth more than the maximum fine for his crime.
Attorneys for Tyson Timbs and the state of Indiana will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 28 whether the Eighth Amendment protection from “excessive fines” applies to civil forfeitures at the state level, The Indianapolis Star reported .
Timbs, a 37-year-old self-described former heroin addict, pleaded guilty in 2013 to selling $260 worth of heroin. The government then seized his $42,000 Land Rover in a process known as “civil asset forfeiture,” which allows police to seize and keep property allegedly used in a crime.
Indiana law says the maximum fine for Timbs’ crime was $10,000.
Ian Samuel, an associate professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, said the case is important. He said most of the Bill of Rights is “incorporated” and applies to states.
“There’s very little that isn’t,” Samuel said. “When you have a case like this, it’s rare. It could provide a vehicle to constitutional challenges to forfeiture.”
Timbs’s attorney, Wesley Hottot, said Indiana’s forfeiture policy is unique.
“This is the only state in the nation where prosecutions for civil forfeiture can be outsourced to private law firms who then work on contingency based on how much property they forfeit,” Hottot said. “Tyson’s case, this very case, was brought by a private law firm working on contingency. We have to ask ourselves if these types of cases would even be brought if the prosecutor wasn’t financially self-interested.”
Timbs also served a year of home detention, five years of probation and paid court-ordered fees.