Supreme Court Votes 9-0 to Limit Civil Asset Forfeiture


Civil asset forfeiture is an ancient practice. Government reserved the right seize ill-gotten gains obtained illegally as a means of restitution and to deprive criminals of the assets they need to operate. The concept is that the property itself is guilty of a crime and therefore could be forfeited to the sovereign (government).

However, the wars on drugs and terrorism, as well as Orwellian powers given to the IRS have greatly expanded civil asset forfeiture. Not only that, but states and local governments PROFIT from the practice. By signing up with the federal government’s asset forfeiture program, state and local governments receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds from anything they seize. This creates an economic incentive for state and local governments to abuse this power and THEY HAVE!

Often, there is no mechanism to get your property back, even if you are absolved of the suspected crime or never charged.

The case that came before the Supreme Court (Timbs vs. Indiana) provided a perfect example of this abuse. Tyson Timbs, a small-time thief and drug dealer, had his $42,000 SUV seized by Indiana authorities, despite the fact he could demonstrate the vehicle was purchased with money from his father’s life insurance policy.

The high court had previously ruled that the Eighth Amendment, which protects against excessive fines, applied to forfeiture cases. However, that did little to curb the practice.

The new 9-0 ruling stopped short of banning the practice. However, it links the previous Eighth Amendment ruling to the 14th Amendment protection against property seizure without due process of law. In a nutshell, they are providing aggrieved property owners the right to sue government (based on the 14th Amendment) on the grounds that the amount of property seized was excessive (based on the Eighth Amendment).

While many liberals and libertarians find the idea that any property can be seized without conviction problematic, the court’s decision is definitely a step in the right direction. At least now, property owners impacted by civili asset forfeiture will have their day in court.

Ray Davis
for 6 Sense Media