Oklahoma Civil Forfeiture
Updated: May 23, 2022
How the Supreme Court’s decision in Timbs v. Indiana affects residents of Bartlesville
Today, in Timbs v. Indiana (available here) the U.S. Supreme Court decided, that, because of the “excessive fines” clause in the U.S. Constitution, a civil forfeiture cannot be excessive, and there is a limit to the value of property that a state can forfeit.
Civil forfeiture is a procedure where, is property or money is “used or involved in, used to facilitate, delivered from or traceable to” a crime, then, the state may seize the property from the owner, and, after a court proceeding, the state may become the owner of the property.
In Timbs v. Indiana, Tyson Timbs pleaded guilty, in an Indiana state court, to dealing in a controlled substance. Under Indiana’s civil forfeiture law, the state of Indiana seized Mr. Timbs $42,000 Land Rover SUV. The state argued that because Mr. Timbs had used the Land Rover SUV in the commission of a crime (transporting heroin), the state should take ownership of the Land Rover SUV. Mr. Timbs argued that the forfeiture of his $42,000 SUV for a drug conviction, was an excessive fine, and violated the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Eighth Amendment reads,
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
The Indiana Supreme Court ruled against Mr. Timbs. The Indiana Supreme Court held that, the Excessive Fines Clause applied only to the federal government, and, not to the states. Under the Indiana Supreme Court’s reasoning, the Constitution did not prohibit the states from taking excessive fines in civil forfeiture cases.
The U.S. Supreme Court held in favor of Mr. Timbs. The Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, that
1) The Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment, applied to the states, and
2) The Excessive Fines Clause applies to civil forfeiture cases, and therefore, the state cannot take excessive fines in civil forfeiture cases.
How does this case affect Oklahomans?
Oklahoma has a civil forfeiture law, which allows the state to seize property involved in the commission of a crime. Because of the Supreme Court’s holding in Timbs, all civil forfeitures in Oklahoma are now subject to the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment. This does not mean that all civil forfeitures are illegal. It merely means, that if, in a civil forfeiture case, if the state of Oklahoma seeks to forfeit property, and the value of the property is “excessive,” then the forfeiture is unconstitutional, and the state will not be allowed to take ownership of the property.
Thus, if you have had property taken from you in a civil forfeiture case, and the forfeiture was excessive, your constitutional rights have been violated. You are entitled to a return of the property.
For more information on how to challenge civil forfeiture, read my blog post here.