SCOTUS Releases Opinion Impacting the Government’s Ability to Seize a New York Defendant’s Property

Recently, the United States Supreme Court issued a written opinion in an interesting case discussing the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Specifically, the case involved the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment and required the Court to determine if the rights contained in the Clause applied to both federal and state proceedings. Ultimately, the Court concluded that when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, it incorporated the rights contained in the Excessive Fines Clause (as it did with most other rights included in the Bill of Rights).

The Facts of the Case

According to the Court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested on drug and theft charges while he was driving a Land Rover SUV that he had just purchased with the proceeds from an insurance policy after the death of his father. The defendant paid $42,000 for the SUV.

The defendant pled guilty to both charges. While the maximum allowable punishment would have resulted in a jail sentence and a $10,000 fine, the defendant was placed on house arrest and fined approximately $1,000. After the case was over, the government claimed that the SUV was involved in the transport of drugs, and sought civil forfeiture of the vehicle.

The trial court found that the forfeiture of the SUV was not permissible under the Excessive Fines Clause, in part because the value of the vehicle was over four times the maximum allowable fine. The intermediate appellate court affirmed, and the government appealed the state’s high court, which reversed the case in favor of the government. That court determined that the Excessive Fines Clause only pertained to federal actions, and not to state-court proceedings. The defendant then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a unanimous opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court held that the rights granted by the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment applied to state-court proceedings because they were incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court noted that, historically, the Bill of Rights was only applicable to the federal government. However, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated many of those rights that were “fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty,” with “deep roots in our history and tradition.”

Here, the Court outlined the history of the Excessive Fines Clause, tracing it back to the year 1215. From there, the Court detailed the importance of the right to be free from excessive or disproportionate fines, ultimately concluding that the right is “fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty,” with “deep roots in our history and tradition.”

Thus, the court reversed the state supreme court decision, holding that the government was not permitted to proceed with the forfeiture of the defendant’s SUV.

Have You Been Arrested for a New York Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a crime, the dedicated New York criminal defense attorneys at the law firm of Tilem & Associates can help you defend against the charges you are facing. The impact of a criminal conviction can come with many collateral consequences, some of which may carry more of an impact than the criminal punishment imposed by the court. At Tilem & Associates, we listen to the individual needs of each of our clients to ensure that we cater our representation accordingly. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the charges you are currently facing, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.

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