Court To Decide Whether Seizure Of Car For Minor Drug Offense Was Excessive


Court To Decide Whether Seizure Of Car For Minor Drug Offense Was Excessive

By Victoria Ratliff

INDIANAPOLIS—More than five years after the state seized his car, Tyson Timbs was back before the Indiana Supreme Court Friday arguing that taking his $40,000 car for a $260 drug deal is excessive and unconstitutional.

Timbs had used his Range Rover when he sold heroin to an undercover police officer, but “it was grossly disproportionate to his crime,” said Sam Gedge of the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, who is representing Timbs in this case.

Timbs has been battling to recover the vehicle he bought with money he inherited from his father. After selling the heroin to the undercover police officer, he pleaded guilty to his crime and was sentenced to one year of house arrest and probation. That’s when law enforcement seized his vehicle because he had driven it when he sold the drugs.

Timbs went to state court to recover his car and initially won. But when the case landed before the state Supreme Court, he lost.

That’s when he and his lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they argued the punishment was disproportionate to the crime. The high court heard arguments last fall and in February issued a ruling in Timbs’ favor, saying the Eighth Amendment protection against excessive fines and punishment applies to the states.

The case was sent back to the state Supreme Court to rule whether the seizure of Timbs’ vehicle was, in fact, excessive.

Timbs’ lawyers say the state has changed its tune—it is no longer arguing whether the punishment is proportional to the crime but that, under law, the state has a right to seize the vehicle because it was used in the crime.

“What should matter is instrumentality,” Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher said, arguing that under Indiana law the mere fact that the vehicle was used when Timbs sold heroin justifies its seizure.

Gedge argued that treating every offender the same and delivering the same level of punishment is dangerous. He said that someone who sold $260 of heroin shouldn’t face the same public forfeiture as someone who is charged with more serious crimes, or someone running a drug ring.

Fisher said that since Timbs admitted to using the rest of his inheritance to buy drugs, he could have faced a much more serious sentence. Therefore, he argued, the seizure of the vehicle was proportionate in relation to the 20-year sentence he could have faced.

“If 20 years wouldn’t be grossly disproportionate, I don’t see how $40,000 would be,” Fisher said.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush said that there was no way for the court to know whether the vehicle was ever actually used in the other drug transactions.

“There’s no range or scope to how often it was used,” she told Fisher.

Gedge argued that the court needs to also look at the ruling in Timbs’ criminal case. The judge in that case gave Timbs a relatively light sentence because she believed the offense was a minor one.

Furthermore, seizing the vehicle was excessive because it made it more difficult for Timbs, who had little money or resources, Gedge told the justices. He also said that Fisher needs to look at what actually came of the criminal case, not the charges Timbs could have received.

A range of organizations from the liberal American Civil Liberties Union to the libertarian Cato Institute filed briefs with the court in support of Timbs’ position.

Rush said that the court will discuss the case more and will then issue its decision.

Victoria Ratliff is a reporter for, a news website powered by Franklin College journalists.

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