After Seven Years And A US Supreme Court Victory, Tyson Timbs Is One Step Closer To Finally Getting His Car Back

from the never-underestimate-the-pettiness-of-an-institution-that-sees-its-revenue-stream dept

Tyson Timbs went all the way to the US Supreme Court to get his forfeited Land Rover returned to him. Represented by the Institute for Justice, Timbs took his case through every level of the Indiana court system before finding relief in the nation's top court. Seven years after his vehicle was seized during his arrest for heroin dealing, he's still waiting for the cops to return his car.

The Supreme Court said the seizure of a $42,000 vehicle over a crime with a maximum possible fine of $10,000 was disproportionate and violated Constitutional protections against excessive fines. Timbs ultimately only paid $1,200 in fines and spent one year on home detention for his crime, which involved two controlled heroin sales to undercover cops totaling less than $400.

The state argued it had never adopted the excessive fine clause of the Eighth Amendment, despite most states having already adopted this clause more than 70 years ago. Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch seemed pretty exasperated at the state's attempt to talk around the issue to maintain ownership of a car it had seized in 2013.

JUSTICE GORSUCH: Well, whatever the Excessive Fine Clause guarantees, we can argue, again, about its scope and in rem and in personam, but whatever it, in fact, is, it applies against the states, right?

MR. FISHER: Well, again, that depends.

JUSTICE GORSUCH: I mean, most -- most of the incorporation cases took place in like the 1940s.

MR. FISHER: Right.

JUSTICE GORSUCH: And here we are in 2018 -­

MR. FISHER: Right.

JUSTICE GORSUCH: -- still litigating incorporation of the Bill of Rights. Really? Come on, General.

The Grant County Court has now moved Timbs one step closer to retrieving his Land Rover. The court -- dealing with remands from both the state and United States Supreme Courts -- says the forfeiture of Timbs' car is obviously disproportionate. There's no question this seizure violates Timbs' Constitutional rights.

The decision [PDF] points out Timbs has done everything expected from him during his probation, often exceeding the minimal requirements imposed on him.

Timbs remains on probation and has had no probation violations. Furthermore, no evidence was presented to suggest that Timbs has committed any crimes Sinée the date of his arrest in 2013. While on probation Timbs has participated in the Grant County Substance Abuse Task Force, shared his story and insights with a gubernatorial drug task force, and on at least one occasion agreed to request by the Grant County Probation Department to help with another probationer. In an effort to remain clean, Timbs also participated in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous Programs.

Timbs has also remained gainfully employed since his arrest, working at a number of jobs. His current employer is roughly an hour's drive from his home. As the court notes, depriving him of his car -- which was also apparently his only meaningful asset -- has hurt Timbs' chance to rehabilitate and re-enter society.

Being without vehicle has made it more difficult for Timbs to reintegrate into society and earn a living. This is true for virtually all offenders. Having a car is almost indispensable to maintaining a job in Indiana: only 0.9% of Hoosier workers get to and from their jobs using public transportation...

Cars are crucial to maintaining employment in most parts of Indiana and employment is crucial to reducing recidivism. According to a publication on the Indiana Department of Corrections’ website, unemployment is one of the top two predictors of recidivism in Indiana. Automobiles are also vital to offenders like Timbs who are suffering from substance abuse disorders. Routinely, these offenders are ordered to participate in drug and alcohol treatment, and cars are usually utilized to attend addiction services and treatment programs located in and around Grant County.

The court says the seizure harms Timbs far more than it should and the state does not appear to have balanced the side effects of this seizure with minimal severity of Timbs' crime.

The forfeiture of the Land Rover did nothing to remedy the harm caused. Often, the illegal sale of narcotics causes physical and emotional harm to users and negatively impacts families, and coworkers. It also overburdens the justice system and strains our healthcare system. However, Timbs’s specific crime was victimless. It caused no actual harm as the sale he made was to undercover officers; hence, the heroin was never used.

Furthermore, the Land Rover was purchased with life insurance funds Timbs obtained after his father's death. There was never any doubt the vehicle was lawfully purchased using legally-obtained funds. Despite this fact, the state used less than $400 worth of heroin sales to deprive Timbs of his sole asset, making it almost impossible for him to abide by the terms of his probation, much less reintegrate successfully into society.

Cops often claim forfeiture helps them dismantle large-scale drug operations. The court can't see how Timbs fits into the forfeiture narrative law enforcement agencies like to push.

He was no drug “kingpin," a fact recognized by the State when it agreed that the minimum sentence of six years with only one year executed on home detention was appropriate. In addition, there is no evidence in the record that Timbs was engaged in trafficking narcotics beyond two controlled buys. He simply does not fit into the class of persons for whom the statute was principally designed: individuals who regularly sell narcotics to earn a living. Selling narcotics was not an occupation for Timbs. Instead, he sold heroin to feed his addiction. But for his addiction, there is every reason to believe that Timbs would never have sold heroin to anyone.

With that, the court orders the release of Timbs' Land Rover "immediately." While it's an undeniable courtroom win for Timbs, the question is what the car will actually be worth when it's all said and done.

[The judge] ordered the Land Rover, which the state has stored in an outdoor parking lot exposed to the elements since 2013, released to Timbs immediately.

It obviously won't be worth anything near the $35,000 it was worth when the state took it. And the state didn't care what happened to the car while this was litigated because it wasn't able to place it on the auction block. That being said, it's still one more car than Timbs possesses now.

But it still might be the state's car for the time being. Apparently the government still isn't willing to let the car go.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. said he isn't halting his efforts to keep Timbs' Land Rover on behalf of the state.

In a written statement, Hill vowed to "defend the constitutionality of Indiana's civil forfeiture laws" by asking the Indiana Supreme Court to review [Judge] Todd's ruling.

This is the kind of gambling you can do when you're using other people's money. You can head into a seventh year of litigation over a single vehicle, arguing against the application of the nation's Constitutional rights to your own constituents. Nice work if you can get it.

Filed Under: asset forfeiture, civil asset forfeitue, supreme court, tyson timbs


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 3:41pm

    If wishes were fishes

    "...asking the Indiana Supreme Court to review [Judge] Todd's ruling."

    Judge Todd's ruling, which was following the Supreme Court of the United States directions. Just what does Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. think their gonna do? Disagree with SCOTUS and tell Hill he can keep the car?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Norahc (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 4:24pm

      Re: If wishes were fishes

      I wish the Supreme Court would say the state can keep the car but the Attorney General's Office must buy Timbs a brand new 2021 Land Rover. Failure of the state to do so will result in AG Hill's vehicle being seized and auctioned under the asset forfeiture laws.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Roddy (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 4:40pm

      Re: If wishes were fishes

      Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. isn't going to be doing anything for now. Presumably, he'll need to wait until his law license suspension is up.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2020 @ 5:45pm

        Re: Re: If wishes were fishes

        That's what you have deputies for, to do things you aren't able to.

        Maybe the deputies will hand over the truck while they are at it. Having the Indiana Supreme Court make a ruling saying they're keeping the truck when the US Supreme Court says "nope" is just asking for a bench slap.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 4:21pm

    What do you wanna bet?

    [The judge] ordered the Land Rover, which the state has stored in an outdoor parking lot exposed to the elements since 2013, released to Timbs immediately.

    They're going to send him a bill for impound fees going back to 2013, interest compounded monthly. It will be more than the vehicle was worth then, much less what it's worth now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 12:33am

      Re: What do you wanna bet?

      That's asking for another lawsuit and Timbs becoming the next movie star in "Man vs Machine: A Cog To Grind Them All".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kitsune106, 12 May 2020 @ 4:24pm

    Hmmm

    Since the prosecutor did the crime or taking property and violating 8th admenment , can we civil asset forfeiture his stuff? After all, no abosulye immunity as going after the stuff...... I mean, only fairm what's good for the goose is good for the gander ..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Agammamon, 12 May 2020 @ 5:31pm

    He can come get the car as soon as he pays the $30/day impound fee . . .

    And arranges the tow truck that he'll need to tow it home since it certainly won't run and while have 4 flat, dry-rotted tires.

    The he can clean up the mess left by the vagrant that slept in the car . . . or maybe just used it as a toilet and moved on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    mcherm (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 5:47pm

    The Value of the Car

    Normally a Land Rover of that age which hadn't received proper mechanical care during the years it was impounded would be worth far less than the original $35,000. But hopefully for Tyson Timbs, this particular Land Rover will be worth more as a collector's item -- after all, it was famously the subject of an important Supreme Court case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 12 May 2020 @ 5:57pm

    Next, he should get to sue for the depreciation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 8:45pm

    'He's getting A car next week, your choice as to which.'

    Would be nice if a judge was willing and able to respond by telling the scumbag DA that if he's not willing to follow a US Supreme Court ruling that he's wrong and return Timbs' car then the DA's car will do just nicely, and if that doesn't cover the value of the original vehicle then more of the DA's property can be auctioned off to cover the difference.

    At some point it would be really nice if scum like that actually faced some penalties for screwing people over, because as it stands he and others in his position have basically zero incentive not to just keep on going, because it's never their money or property on the line and there is no penalties for a loss.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2020 @ 9:31pm

    Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. said he isn't halting his efforts to keep Timbs' Land Rover on behalf of the state.

    @@ Oh come on, General.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2020 @ 10:21pm

    That is one reason to keep your electronics encrypted, so that if they are seized, the cops cannot get anything, becuase bringing down the raw data gets nothing.

    With all this coronavirus lockdown stuff, you never know when a cop might arrest you just for walking down the street, which is why I have my phone at insane security levels.

    If they try to blow past my password, all they will get is bunch of encrypted gibberish that will be useless to them in trying to find something else you don't know about to try and muscle me into a plea agreement.

    Even for something as minor as violating lockdown, they will look for something on your electronics to muscle you into a plea agreement. If they data is encrypted and they can't get to it, they are just SOL.

    Malware can bring illegal stuff on your phone without you knowing it. That is why, in these times, you need to keep your phone encrypted and on insane security levels in these times so that if you ever are taken in for violating lockdown, even for going out and getting some excersice (and it is happening in some places), the cops will not be able to access the data on your electronics.

    And another thing I do whenever I buy a new computer is use one of these disk wiping utilities to totally wipe the disk and reinstall the operating system

    This keeps me from getting in trouble for what the techs who put it together might do.

    This way, if the computer is ever seized by law enforcement, I cannot get into any trouble for what the techs who put it together might have done because that totally wiped out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ben (profile), 13 May 2020 @ 2:43am

      Re:

      Perhaps if you stuck to the lockdown rules in your locality, you could reduce the probability of a negative interaction with the police.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 8:41am

        Re: Re:

        I have not had not any problems yet, butnuou never know 8n these times.

        I also have a setting on my phone where after 15 failed password tries, the phone wipes all the data and then does a factory reset

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 3:15am

      Re:

      And if you do that where I live (the UK) you'd better decrypt on demand of "an authorised person" or you become liable to a term of imprisonment (or fine) Damned if you do,,,

      My phone is passworded (it's an Android)just to keep any random person looking on a whim. They have to ask, and wait while I do it.

      G.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 3:21am

      Re:

      The best option to delete data on a drive is ATA Secure Erase, especially for SSDs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rekrul, 13 May 2020 @ 9:55am

        Re: Re:

        The best option to delete data on a drive is ATA Secure Erase, especially for SSDs.

        No, no, no. Haven't you ever watched CSI or NCIS? You can NEVER erase data off a drive! Even stuff that was on the drive a decade ago and that has been overwritten a hundred times can be recovered by any hacker in about 20 seconds!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 10:34am

        Re: Re:

        Like I said, when you buy a mew computer, you need to securely wipe the hard disk and reinstall the OS.

        Doing this when you first buy a computer does not break any US or UK laws.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 11:01pm

    There was no clear cut case showing that we needed to keep property in the same condition it was in when we seized it.
    QI for everyone & please pay to haul your pile of crap off our lot now.

    I am so glad that there were no other problems in the state that needed attention so that wasting 7 years on trying to steal someones car to pad your bottom line was worth it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Paul Brinker, 13 May 2020 @ 1:46pm

      Re:

      If real property is taken the market value of that property must be paid to the owner. In this case that would mean the value of the car when it was taken, I think all parties could forgive some nominal loss for example the car sitting for 60 days, but in this situation the state went out of its way to protect its ability to take the car dragging on 7 years, or in general terms, the useful life of the vehicle.

      The state has not only taken his car for now 7 years, but has taken all value from the car by not maintaining it or otherwise protecting it from the elements. AKA the car is only worth its scrap value.

      At this point the argument should be about the amount of money lost to the state, not the actual property anymore.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 9:15pm

        Re: Re:

        Well, seeing as cops don't have to compensate completely innocent parties for wrecking cars or bulldozing houses in the course of arresting someone for vagrancy, i don't really see it happening.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 13 May 2020 @ 6:29pm

    Indiana incorporating the 8th is irrelevant

    Indiana's own Constitution also includes a prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, which means that even if the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution doesn't apply to Indiana, the forfeiture is STILL illegal.

    https://www.law.indiana.edu/uslawdocs/inconst/art-1.html#sec-16

    Mr Fisher's taking the SCOTUS decision to the Indiana Supreme Court is utterly bizarre - a lower court has no authority whatsoever to overturn the ruling of a higher court.

    I wonder how Mr Fisher would react if someone took a decision on one of his state court cases to a city court and the city court ordered it overturned? Would he obey the order of the city court, or laugh at the stupidity and hubris of a lower court issuing orders it lacks the authority to issue?

    This is a clear cut case of criminal contempt of court on the part of Mr Fisher.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    bhull242 (profile), 14 May 2020 @ 12:57pm

    In a written statement, Hill vowed to "defend the constitutionality of Indiana's civil forfeiture laws" by asking the Indiana Supreme Court to review [Judge] Todd's ruling.

    Uhhh… Todd ruled that way because SCOTUS told him to. The state Supreme Court can’t overrule them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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