INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — State lawyers argued Friday that an Indiana man should lose his $40,000 Land Rover over selling $400 worth of heroin even though the U.S. Supreme Court used that case for a key ruling on excessive fines earlier this year.
Those arguments came as the Indiana Supreme Court again took up the question of whether Tyson Timbs of Marion should be able to get back the vehicle that police seized after his arrest in 2013. Timbs’ case is back before Indiana’s top court because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in February that the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines applies to the states as well as the federal government.
Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher told the justices that seizure of the vehicle was proper because it was used in commission of a crime and not a fine as part of the criminal sentence.
The justices questioned how they should draw the line on considering a seizure as excessive.
Justice Mark Massa pondered whether seizing a 20-year-old car would be fine, while doing the same with an expensive car would not.
“I think it would be good for the court to avoid a legal standard that would encourage people to drive their fancy cars to drug deals,” Fisher replied.
Timbs pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year of house arrest but faced no prison time. His biggest loss was the Land Rover he had bought with some of $70,000 in life insurance money he received after his father died.
A Grant County judge had ruled that taking the car was disproportionate to the severity of the crime, which carries a maximum fine of $10,000. But Indiana’s top court said the U.S. Supreme Court had never before ruled that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines applies to states.
Timbs, who has been represented by the libertarian public interest law firm Institute for Justice, has said he’s kicked his heroin addiction that began after being prescribed hydrocodone for foot pain. The Indiana justices raised the dilemma that Timbs not only drove the Land Rover to the drug deal for which he was arrested, but also for thousands of miles on trips between Marion and Richmond for the heroin buys that burned through the rest of the life insurance money.
Lawyer Sam Gedge, representing Timbs, argued Timbs shouldn’t be treated like a drug kingpin and that allowing state officials to seize his only means of transportation was disproportionate.
“They would treat, under the excessive fines clause, Pablo Escobar the same way they would treat Tyson Timbs,” Gedge said.
The Indiana justices did not say how soon they expected to issue a decision.