State v. Timbs, Supreme Court Case No. 27S04-1702-MI-70

Citation134 N.E.3d 12
Case DateOctober 28, 2019
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

134 N.E.3d 12

STATE of Indiana, Appellant (Plaintiff)
Tyson TIMBS, Appellee (Defendant)

Supreme Court Case No. 27S04-1702-MI-70

Supreme Court of Indiana.

Argued: June 28, 2019
FILED October 28, 2019

On Remand from the Supreme Court of the United States, No. 17-1091

Rush, Chief Justice.

Civil forfeiture of property is a powerful law-enforcement tool. It can be

134 N.E.3d 21

punitive and profitable: punitive for those whose property is confiscated; and profitable for the government, which takes ownership of the property.

When a civil forfeiture is even partly punitive, it implicates the Eighth Amendment's protection against excessive fines. And since that safeguard applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, we now face two questions left open by the Supreme Court of the United States. First, how should courts determine whether a punitive, in rem forfeiture is an excessive fine? And second, would forfeiture of Tyson Timbs's vehicle be an excessive fine?

We answer the first question with an analytical framework similar to those of almost all courts to have addressed the issue. For the second question, we remand for the trial court to determine, based on that framework, whether Timbs has cleared the hurdle of establishing gross disproportionality, entitling him to relief.

Facts and Procedural History

Tyson Timbs started taking prescription hydrocodone pills for foot pain in 2007. He soon became addicted and supplemented his prescription with pain pills he bought on the street. When those became unavailable, he turned to heroin.

Despite addiction treatment, Timbs continued to use; and when he failed a drug screen, he lost his job. He got clean for a while but began using again after his father died in 2012.

From his father's life insurance policy, Timbs received approximately $73,000. With about $42,000 of those proceeds, he purchased a Land Rover. He spent the rest on clothes, shoes, and heroin, with over $30,000 going to the drugs.

Timbs would obtain heroin by regularly driving his Land Rover sixty to ninety miles to meet his supplier. These trips accounted for most of the 16,000 miles Timbs put on the vehicle over four months. Eventually, a confidential informant told police officers on a drug task force that Timbs would possibly sell heroin. Timbs had never sold before, but the officers devised a controlled-buy plan.

The first buy took place on May 6, 2013, at an apartment near Timbs's residence. Timbs drove his Land Rover to the apartment, bringing two grams of heroin with him for the sale. At the apartment, Timbs gave the drugs to the confidential informant, and an undercover police officer gave Timbs the agreed-upon $225. Before Timbs departed in the Land Rover, the officer mentioned contacting Timbs for another sale.

About two weeks later, a second buy took place at a gas station close to Timbs's residence. Timbs arrived on foot with two grams of heroin, which he gave to an undercover officer for $160.

Over the next week, officers set up a third buy, which was to take place at a hotel. But the sale did not occur. Before Timbs arrived at the meeting place on the scheduled day, police stopped him in his Land Rover for a traffic violation. Officers immediately seized the vehicle and took Timbs and his passenger into custody. Neither individual had heroin with him in the vehicle. Without drugs for the sale, they had planned to drive off with the purchase money once the buyer handed it over.

The State charged Timbs with three offenses: two counts of Class B felony dealing in a controlled substance, Ind. Code § 35-48-4-2(a)(1) (2012) ; and one count of Class D felony conspiracy to commit theft, I.C. §§ 35-43-4-2(a), -41-5-2. The trial court found Timbs indigent and appointed a public defender for the criminal case.

After entering into a plea agreement, Timbs pleaded guilty to one count of dealing

134 N.E.3d 22

and the conspiracy charge, and the State dismissed the other count of dealing. The court sentenced Timbs according to the plea agreement's terms: the sentence for dealing—six years' imprisonment with five years suspended to probation and one year executed on home detention—would run concurrent with a lesser sentence for the conspiracy conviction. Also, as part of his sentence, Timbs was required to participate in a drug-and-alcohol program; pay the $400 program fee; reimburse the drug task force $385 for the cost of its investigation; and pay $418 in court costs and other fees.

In addition to prosecuting the criminal case against Timbs, the State filed a civil complaint for forfeiture of the Land Rover, bringing the action against the property, or in rem , with Timbs as a named party in interest. In its complaint, the State alleged:

1. On or about May 31, 2013, officers of the ... Drug Task Force, seized from the Defendant, TYSON TIMBS, One (1) 2012 Land Rover LR2 ... in Grant County, Indiana.

2. On said date and at said place, the Defendant, TYSON TIMBS, had in his possession, the above described vehicle, said vehicle had been furnished or intended to be furnished by Defendant, TYSON TIMBS, in exchange for an act that is in violation of a criminal statute, or used to facilitate any violation of a criminal statute or is traceable as proceeds of the violation of a criminal statute under Indiana law, as provided in I.C. 34-24-1-1.

3. The Defendant, TYSON TIMBS, is the owner of the vehicle.

After a hearing, the court made factual findings and entered judgment in Timbs's favor. The court reasoned that forfeiture of the vehicle would be grossly disproportional to the gravity of Timbs's dealing offense—which carried a maximum statutory fine of $10,000 (about one-fourth the Land Rover's market value at the time Timbs purchased it five months earlier)—so the forfeiture would violate the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause.

The State appealed, and our Court of Appeals affirmed. State 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 been incorporated against the States.1 Id. at 1180–81.

Timbs petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States for certiorari. The Court granted his petition and held that the Excessive Fines Clause applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. Timbs v. Indiana , ––– U.S. ––––, 139 S. Ct. 682, 687, 203 L.Ed.2d 11 (2019). The Court accordingly vacated our prior decision and remanded the case back to us. Id. at 691.

We ordered additional briefing and oral argument and now address the merits of the constitutional issue.2

134 N.E.3d 23

Standard of Review

Timbs asserts that the statute under which the State sought forfeiture of the Land Rover is unconstitutional as applied to the facts of this case. His claim involves several layers of review.

We accept the trial court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous. Ind. Trial Rule 52(A) ; Hitch v. State , 51 N.E.3d 216, 226 (Ind. 2016). But we review the court's excessiveness decision de novo, as it requires application of a constitutional standard. See United States v. Bajakajian , 524 U.S. 321, 336–37 & n.10, 118 S.Ct. 2028, 141 L.Ed.2d 314 (1998) ; State v. Thakar , 82 N.E.3d 257, 259 (Ind. 2017). Finally, we presume the statute is constitutional and "resolve all reasonable doubts concerning [the] statute in favor of constitutionality." Thakar , 82 N.E.3d at 259 (quoting Tiplick v. State , 43 N.E.3d 1259, 1262 (Ind. 2015) ).

Discussion and Decision

The Eighth Amendment guarantees that "[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." U.S. Const. amend. VIII. These guarantees "place ‘parallel limitations’ on ‘the power of those entrusted with the criminal-law function of government.’ " Timbs , 139 S. Ct. at 687 (quoting Browning-Ferris Indus. of Vt., Inc. v. Kelco Disposal, Inc. , 492 U.S. 257, 263, 109 S.Ct. 2909, 106 L.Ed.2d 219 (1989) ).

At issue is the Excessive Fines Clause, which applies only to fines, or "payment[s] to a sovereign as punishment for some offense." Browning-Ferris , 492 U.S. at 265, 109 S.Ct. 2909. Because the Clause has received little attention in Supreme Court precedent, courts in recent decades have been grappling with the question of what makes an in rem fine excessive. We address that question today—finding guidance in cases from the Supreme Court, especially Austin and Bajakajian , and in the history of both the Excessive Fines Clause and forfeitures.

But first, we must determine whether forfeiture of Timbs's Land Rover is a fine, bringing it within the scope of the Excessive Fines Clause.

I. Forfeiture of Timbs's vehicle is a fine.

The parties agree that forfeiture of Timbs's Land Rover is at least partly punitive, making it a fine subject to the Excessive Fines Clause. We also agree.

The State sought forfeiture of the Land Rover under Indiana Code section 34-24-1-1(a)(1)(A). This...

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    ...schemes across the country, though some state statutes require a heightened preponderance of the evidence standard. See State v. Timbs , 134 N.E.3d 12, 27 n.6 (Ind. 2019) ("Many jurisdictions impose comparable burdens, though some state statutes impose more stringent requirements on the gov......
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    ...the forfeiture to a specific offense, included an innocent owner provision, and was not linked to the value of the crime); see also Timbs, 134 N.E.3d at 23-24 (holding that in forfeiture of Land Rover pursuant to use-based forfeiture statute was a fine because it tied "each forfeiture to th......
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    ...the forfeiture to a specific offense, included an innocent owner provision, and was not linked to the value of the crime); see also Timbs, 134 N.E.3d at 23-24 (holding that in forfeiture of Land Rover pursuant to use-based forfeiture statute was a fine because it tied "each forfeiture to th......
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