Forfeiture and Greed: When is the Government’s Taking of Your Property Excessive

October 23, 2016

By Keffer Hirschauer LLP

In Indiana, the State is empowered to seize and take possession of the property of others via a legal mechanism known as Civil Asset Forfeiture. This process, enacted in Indiana through Indiana Code 34-24-1 and 34-24-2, allow a local county prosecutor’s office to bring complaints against seized property. The goal being that, if the State can prove that the property was used for criminal activity, purchased with proceeds from criminal activity, or used to facilitate ongoing criminal activity, the State can take this property and use it for its own, legally approved, ends.

Due to the volume of activity and the presence of high dollar/value property and cash, law enforcement has focused on the drug trade. This has allowed the State of Indiana to seize cars, money, and even businesses and homes. However, even if the case against the individual is strong and the property appears to be appropriate for forfeiture (which is not always the case), the State of Indiana’s seizure and subsequent forfeiture is still limited by the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Last week, the Indiana Court of Appeals addressed such a circumstance. In State of Indiana v. Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2, 27A04-1511-MI-1976 (Ind. Ct. App. October 20, 2016), the Indiana Court of Appeals found that the forfeiture of a Land Rover, valued at approximately $40,000, was excessive. This struck the Indiana Court of Appeals as excessive because the Defendant, whose vehicle was being forfeited, had been charged with felonies which carried a maximum fine of only $10,000. In so holding, the Indiana Court of Appeals noted that the Eighth Amendment provides that “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The Court continued, “[a] punitive forfeiture violates the Excessive Fines Clause ‘if it is grossly disproportional to the gravity of a defendant’s offense.’” Id. With a forfeited value of approximately four times the amount of the highest fine that could be imposed, the Indiana Court of Appeals found the forfeiture of the 2012 Land Rover to be excessive. Such a holding by the Indiana Court of Appeals reaffirms the importance of individual’s subject to Civil Asset Forfeiture in Indiana being aware that merely because the government has sought to forfeit their property does not mean that the government is entitled to all of it.

Contact us today if you have questions or believe that you are in need of diligent, driven, and experienced attorney in the area of Indiana Civil Asset Forfeiture. We stand ready to provide our clients with trusted representation and accurate information regarding the law, and its application to their individualized case. Act now and contact us today at (317) 857-0160.