State v. Timbs

Decision Date02 November 2017
Docket NumberNo. 27S04-1702-MI-70.,27S04-1702-MI-70.
Citation84 N.E.3d 1179
Parties STATE of Indiana, Appellant (Plaintiff below), v. Tyson TIMBS, Appellee (Defendant below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Attorneys for Appellant : Curtis T. Hill, Jr., Attorney General of Indiana, Justin F. Roebel, Deputy Attorney General

Attorney for Appellee : David W. Stone IV, Stone Law Office & Legal Research, Anderson, IN

On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 27A04–1511–MI–1976

Slaughter, Justice.

The State sought to forfeit Defendant's Land Rover after he used it to transport illegal drugs. The trial court held the proposed forfeiture would violate the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause. We conclude the Excessive Fines Clause does not bar the State from forfeiting Defendant's vehicle because the United States Supreme Court has not held that the Clause applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.

Factual and Procedural History

Defendant, Tyson Timbs, used life-insurance proceeds after his father's death to pay $42,058.30 for a Land Rover in January 2013. Over the next four months, Timbs regularly drove the Land Rover between Marion and Richmond, Indiana, to buy and transport heroin. Timbs's trafficking came to the attention of a confidential police informant, who told a member of the Joint Effort Against Narcotics team that he could buy heroin from Timbs. Police set up a controlled buy, and the informant and an undercover detective bought two grams of heroin from Timbs for $225. Police made another controlled buy a couple of weeks later, acquiring another two grams of heroin for $160. During the second buy, the detective set up a third controlled buy with Timbs. The day the third buy was to occur, police apprehended Timbs during a traffic stop. The Land Rover had 1,237 miles on its odometer when Timbs bought it in January, and more than 17,000 miles when police seized the vehicle in late May.

In June 2013, the State charged Timbs with two counts of Class B felony dealing in a controlled substance and one count of Class D felony conspiracy to commit theft. Nearly two years later, in 2015, Timbs pleaded guilty to one count of Class B felony dealing and one count of Class D felony conspiracy to commit theft in exchange for the State's dismissing the remaining charge. The trial court accepted the plea and sentenced Timbs to six years, with one year executed in community corrections and five years suspended to probation. Timbs also agreed to pay police costs of $385, an interdiction fee of $200, court costs of $168, a bond fee of $50, and a $400 fee for undergoing a drug-and-alcohol assessment with the probation department.

Within a couple months of bringing criminal charges, the State also sought to forfeit the Land Rover. After a bench trial, the court issued written findings that denied the State's action, concluding that forfeiture would be an excessive fine under the Eighth Amendment. "The amount of the forfeiture sought is excessive, and is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the Defendant's offense." The trial court observed that the maximum statutory fine for Timbs's Class B felony was $10,000 on the day he was arrested and noted the vehicle was worth approximately four times this amount when he bought it just a few months earlier. The court made no finding about the vehicle's value on Timbs's arrest date. Based on its holding, the court ordered the State to release the vehicle immediately. A divided Court of Appeals affirmed. State v. Timbs, 62 N.E.3d 472 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016). We granted transfer, thus vacating the Court of Appeals' opinion, and now reverse.

Standard of Review

Before addressing whether forfeiture of Timbs's Land Rover would be an excessive fine, we must decide the antecedent question of whether the Excessive Fines Clause applies to forfeitures by the State. Whether a Bill of Rights provision applies to the States is a purely legal question. We review such questions de novo. State v. Harper, 8 N.E.3d 694, 696 (Ind. 2014). Unlike legal questions, a trial court's factual determinations are reviewed for clear error. Fischer v. Heymann, 12 N.E.3d 867, 870 (Ind. 2014). We will not reweigh evidence or determine the credibility of witnesses, and we will consider only the evidence favorable to the judgment and the logical inferences drawn from it. Ind. Trial Rule 52(A) ; Hitch v. State, 51 N.E.3d 216, 226 (Ind. 2016).

Discussion and Decision
I. The United States Supreme Court has never enforced the Excessive Fines Clause against the States, and we opt not to do so here.

The framers' original conception was settled long ago that the Bill of Rights applies only to the national government and cannot be enforced against the States. See Barron v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 243, 247, 8 L.Ed. 672 (1833). Only after ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment did the Supreme Court, in the early twentieth century, begin to apply various provisions of the Bill of Rights to the States through the doctrine of selective incorporation. Justice Black's argument for total incorporation of the Bill of Rights, see, e.g., Adamson v. California, 332 U.S. 46, 71–72, 89, 67 S.Ct. 1672, 91 L.Ed. 1903 (1947) (Black, J., dissenting), has never carried the day. McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742, 761–63, 130 S.Ct. 3020, 177 L.Ed.2d 894 (2010).

To date, the Supreme Court has incorporated most of the first eight amendments—with a few notable exceptions: the Third Amendment's protection against quartering soldiers, the Fifth Amendment's grand-jury requirement, and the Seventh Amendment's right to a civil jury trial. Id. at 765 n.13, 130 S.Ct. 3020 (citations omitted). At issue here is whether the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause is enforceable against the States. We hold it is not.

The Eighth Amendment provides: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." U.S. Const. amend. VIII. The Supreme Court has never held that States are subject to the Excessive Fines Clause. The Court initially declined to decide the Clause's incorporation status.

Because of the result we reach today, we need not answer several questions that otherwise might be necessarily antecedent to finding the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause applicable to an award of punitive damages, ... [including] whether the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on excessive fines applies to the several States through the Fourteenth Amendment[.]

Browning–Ferris Industries of Vt., Inc. v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U.S. 257, 276 n.22, 109 S.Ct. 2909, 106 L.Ed.2d 219 (1989).

A dozen years later, in a case involving not a fine but another punitive-damages award, the Supreme Court stated in dictum that the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause "makes the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments applicable to the States." Cooper Indus., Inc. v. Leatherman Tool Group, Inc., 532 U.S. 424, 433–34, 121 S.Ct. 1678, 149 L.Ed.2d 674 (2001) (citing Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972) (per curiam)). A prominent treatise on criminal procedure observed that Cooper 's statement incorporating the Excessive Fines Clause was merely dictum. "In noting that the due process clause also incorporated the Eighth Amendment prohibitions against excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments, the Court cited Furman v. Georgia, ... which involved an application of the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments." Wayne R. Lafave et al., Criminal Procedure § 2.6(b), n.45 at 833 (4th ed. 2015).

Despite Cooper 's 2001 dictum that the Clause can be enforced against States, the Supreme Court's most recent pronouncement on this subject, in 2010, suggests the Clause has not been incorporated after all. McDonald, 561 U.S. at 765 n.13, 130 S.Ct. 3020. McDonald was an incorporation case. At issue was whether the Second Amendment's individual right to keep and bear arms, recognized in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 128 S.Ct. 2783, 171 L.Ed.2d 637 (2008), is enforceable against the States. McDonald held that it is—a position commanding the support of five Justices, four of whom agreed it was enforceable through the Due Process Clause. Only Justice Thomas believed the basis for decision should be the Privileges and Immunities Clause. McDonald, 561 U.S. at 805–58, 130 S.Ct. 3020 (Thomas, J., concurring in part and in the judgment). En route to deciding that the Second Amendment applies to the States, McDonald observed that "[o]nly a handful of the Bill of Rights protections remain unincorporated", id. at 765, 130 S.Ct. 3020, and included on that list "the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on excessive fines." Id. at 765 n.13, 130 S.Ct. 3020. Citing only Browning–Ferris and not Cooper, the Court stated, "We have never decided whether the ... Eighth Amendment's prohibition of excessive fines applies to the States through the Due Process Clause." Id.

It is not self-evident why the McDonald Court did not mention Cooper. Perhaps the omission was an oversight, though we will not conclude lightly that the Supreme Court whiffed on the existence or meaning of its precedent. The more likely explanation is that McDonald was treating Cooper 's statement as superfluous to Cooper 's holding and therefore dictum. Just as Cooper 's statement that the Excessive Fines Clause is enforceable against the States is dictum, so too is McDonald's statement that the Clause is not.

So where does that leave us? Given the lack of clear direction from the Supreme Court, we have a couple of options. One option is to ignore McDonald and follow the lead of some courts that have either applied the Excessive Fines Clause to challenged state action or assumed without deciding that the Clause applies. See, e.g., Hamilton v. City of New Albany, Indiana, 698 Fed. Appx. 821, 827-28, 2017 WL 2615453, at *5 (7th Cir. Jun. 16, 2017) (vacating summary judgment for city...

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  • Seo v. State
    • United States
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    • June 23, 2020
    ...decline to find or assume [an issue of constitutional law] until the Supreme Court decides the issue authoritatively." State v. Timbs , 84 N.E.3d 1179, 1183 (Ind. 2017), vacated and remanded . Noting that "Indiana is a sovereign state within our federal system,"4 this Court unanimously avoi......
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    ...v. Timbs , 62 N.E.3d 472, 473, 477 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016). We granted the State's petition to transfer and reversed. State v. Timbs , 84 N.E.3d 1179, 1180–81, 1185 (Ind. 2017). Without reaching the excessiveness question, we held that the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment had not......
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    ...those resting on the Federal Constitution, he waived any right to suppression on independent state-law grounds. Cf. State v. Timbs , 84 N.E.3d 1179, 1184 (Ind. 2017), vacated & remanded by ––– U.S. ––––, 139 S. Ct. 682, 203 L.Ed.2d 11 (2019).2 See United States v. Artis , No. 5:10-cr-15-01,......
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    ...Excessive Fines Clause. The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed that determination, but the Indiana Supreme Court reversed. 84 N.E.3d 1179 (2017). The Indiana Supreme Court did not decide whether the forfeiture would be excessive. Instead, it held that the Excessive Fines Clause constrains......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Is "policing for Profit" Really a Police Power Exception? Civil Asset Forfeiture as an Excessive Fine and the Police Power Exception to the Automatic Stay
    • United States
    • Emory University School of Law Emory Bankruptcy Developments Journal No. 36-1, March 2020
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    • Washington University Law Review Vol. 98 No. 3, February 2021
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