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Excessive Fines and Incorporation

"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."  So says the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Fines imposed by whom?  As originally enacted, this amendment limited only the federal courts.  The first ten amendments, also known as the Bill of Rights, restrained only the federal government, not the states.

After the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment did limit the state governments, and the question of whether its limits "incorporated" the guarantees of the Bill of Rights, and which ones, has long been a constitutional controversy.  In Hurtado v. California (1884), the Supreme Court decided that the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of grand jury indictment for "infamous" crimes -- already obsolete by that time -- was not incorporated and did not apply to the states.  Also, nobody seriously believes that the Seventh Amendment guarantee of jury trial in civil cases for $21 applies to state courts. 

The First Amendment guarantees were applied, though, early in the twentieth century, and most of the criminal procedure guarantees were "incorporated" during the Warren Court era in the 1960s.  The incorporated provisions, of course, included the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment.

The Excessive Fines Clause has been left out of consideration up to now, but the high court has finally taken it up.  The full name of the case is Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana, No. 17-1091.  Yes, this is a forfeiture case, and the pricey 4x4 is a party to the action.

Petitioner Timbs drove petitioner Rover (purchased for over $40k) to a minor drug transaction which turned out to be with undercover officers.  The Indiana Court of Appeals found that forfeiture of Rover was an excessive fine, but the Indiana Supreme Court reversed on the ground that the Excessive Fines Clause does not apply to the states.

I'm inclined to agree with the defendant on this one.

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