Mississippi Civil Asset Forfeiture – The United States Supreme Court’s Recent Opinion
Mississippi is one of four states that does not recognize that the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution applies to the states.
As the result of a new decision by the United States Constitution, that will change.
On February 20, 2019, The United States Supreme Court ruled in Timbs v. Indiana (586 U.S. ___ (2019) that the excessive fines clause applies to ALL the states.
Without going into too much history and US constitutional development, I will try to be brief. Incorporation refers to the United States Constitution’s Amendments applying to the States. The American Civil War and the expansion of the Federal government saw many changes in the application of these laws beginning in the late 19th Century. The civil liberties seen today were not once guaranteed. The Bill of Rights only applied to the Federal Government upon its inception.
Civil Asset Forfeiture
Although called Civil Asset Forfeiture, this nomenclature is, in fact, a misnomer. It usually involves a person accused of a crime losing their property, often money and vehicles, before they are even indicted or convicted during a criminal proceeding.
An accused person is guaranteed the right to defend themselves. This is the beauty of the American legal system. For example – a right to a trial by a jury of their peers, a right to counsel, a right to confront witnesses, a right to subpoena witnesses, i.e.; a right to a fair trial. Innocent until proven guilty.
Civil asset forfeiture distorts this concept. When a state agency seizes and disposes of someone’s assets, who has not yet been convicted of their crime, they are being denied, in theory, their rights to due process, and also rights explicitly stated in the 8th Amendment: Excessive Fines.
In Timbs v. Indiana, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a vehicle seized under Indiana forfeiture laws, valued at $42,000, was excessive. This fine was four times the maximum amount of fines the accused would have incurred upon sentencing. The Court saw this forfeiture as a punitive measure. The value of the asset seized was grossly disproportionate to the crime, and excessive under the 8th Amendment.
Article by Richard Poole Noel, III
If you have been accused of a crime, or you have received a notice of forfeiture, call us at 601-607-3156. We previously gave an overview of civil asset forfeiture you can find on our blog here.