Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court released an opinion in an interesting case requiring the Court to interpret the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. Specifically, the court was tasked with deciding whether the rights contained in the Excessive Fines Clause were incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment, and thus applicable to proceedings in state court. Ultimately, the court concluded that the rights granted by the Excessive Fines Clause were incorporated and thus applied to state court criminal trials, such as the one in this case.
The details of the defendant’s arrest were not particularly relevant to the Court’s inquiry. In short, police pulled over the defendant while he was operating a Land Rover SUV that he had recently purchased with the proceeds from an insurance policy. Police arrested the defendant for possession with the intent to deliver narcotics, as well as conspiracy to commit theft.
The defendant pleaded guilty and received a sentence of one year of in-home detention, then five subsequent years of probation. Additionally, he was fined approximately $1,200. After the case, the state government sought civil forfeiture of the defendant’s vehicle, claiming that it was used in the commission of a crime. The lower court rejected the government’s request, stating that the vehicle’s value was over four times greater than the maximum allowable fine that could have been imposed against the defendant, and that such a forfeiture would be excessive under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines.