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February 20th Ruling Works to Curb “Policing for Profit”

Supreme Court Limits State and Local Law Enforcement

Law enforcement (city police, sheriffs and highway patrol) have an amazing amount of power when it comes to seizing the property of someone who is suspected to be engaging in illegal activity.

It comes as no surprise that when a law enforcement agency arrests someone doing something illegal, they will take whatever items were assisting in that illegal activity.  You’ve probably seen the pictures of police flexing over a pile of confiscated drugs, money, guns and related items. 

When Forfeiture and Seizures Become a Problem

It’s no surprise when law enforcement takes drugs and money and guns and scales from a drug dealer after an arrest. However, there has been an alarming number of cases where people who have not been arrested or even accused of a crime have had cash seized. 

The video included in this Washington Post article details stories of a restaurant owner going to get new equipment and a young man moving out to California having their cash seized. These cash seizures are done with little more than an inkling by the officer that the money is going be used for something illegal.  

The Case That Was Taken to the Supreme Court

The original case involved a man named Tyson Timbs who was arrested selling heroine.  He had a Land Rover truck valued at around $40,000 seized by law enforcement in Indiana. 

Since the maximum fine for the crime he was convicted of was $10,000, Timbs’ lawyer argued that the $40,000 value of the truck being seized was in violation of the 8th Amendment, which offers protection from excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishment.

The Issue Raised in the Recent Supreme Court Case

The issue reviewed by the Supreme Court had to do with seizures, but a fairly narrow piece of the total issue. Specifically, whether the “excessive fines” clause of the 8th amendment applied to State and Local government. 

Previous cases had already determined that the other two clauses about cruel and unusual punishment and excessive bail applied to state and local law enforcement; this ruling simply states that the clause against “excessive fines” does as well.

Does This Mean the Seized Property Will Be Returned?

Not necessarily. The Supreme Court only rules on whether a decision by a lower court violated someone’s constitutional rights. Indiana’s Supreme Court pointed to their status as “a sovereign state within our federal system” implying that the excessive fines clause did not apply to Indiana.

In this Supreme Court case, they ruled that the 8th amendment did apply to the lower court, however they did not make a ruling about whether or not seizing the truck actually was excessive.  

What Should I Do If I Have Property Seized by Law Enforcement?

At Arechigo & Stokka in St. Paul, we provide a free initial consultation either in our office or over the phone to new clients. If you have had property seized as part of an arrest, or simply due to an officer’s suspicion, call our law office immediately. We will review your case and give you options for how we can move forward and recover your seized property.

Author Photo

John T. Arechigo, Esq.

Attorney John Arechigo has a passion for criminal defense.  He devotes nearly 100% of his practice to defending individuals charged with a crime. John offers what very few other Twin Cities criminal defense lawyers can offer. His combination of experience, success, connections, resources, accessibility, and complete handling of a client’s file sets him apart from his colleagues.

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