CoA Institute Defends U.S. Citizens’ Privilege and Immunity From Excessive Fines in Latest Amicus Brief

On Tuesday, September 11, 2018, Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) filed an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court case Tyson Timbs v. State of Indiana in support of the Petitioners, who asked the Court to determine whether the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated against the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. The matter arises from a civil action against both Tyson Timbs and his vehicle, which the State sought to forfeit. The state trial court and intermediate appellate court ruled that forfeiture of the vehicle (worth about $40,000) would be “excessive” and “grossly disproportional to the gravity of”[i] crimes to which Timbs pleaded guilty in a separate case (the maximum fine for which was $10,000, and Timbs was actually fined much less). But the Indiana Supreme Court reversed because the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet held that the Excessive Fines Clause applies to the States.[ii] CoA Institute argues that the Indiana Supreme Court should be reversed because, as a citizen of the United States, Timbs is privileged and immune under the Fourteenth Amendment from the grossly disproportionate fine that Indiana seeks to impose through forfeiture of his vehicle.

Our brief calls attention to the fact that the Supreme Court has never ruled on whether the Excessive Fines Clause is applicable against the States. We argue that the Excessive Fines Clause is, in fact, enforceable against Indiana through the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That clause provides that “no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” CoA Institute relies on recent jurisprudence, like Justice Thomas’s concurrence in McDonald v. City of Chicago, which notes that on its face, Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment grants U.S. citizens a “certain collection of rights – i.e., privileges or immunities – attributable to [their] status” as citizens of the country as well as an individual state.[iii]

Additionally, our brief demonstrates that Excessive Fines Clause includes the ancient principle of salvo contenemento, which prohibits fines that would deny any defendant the basic ability to earn a living. Forfeiture of Timbs’ vehicle in this case would violate this ancient principle.

Our amicus brief is available here

Libby Rudolf is a Research Assistant at Cause of Action Institute.

[i] State v. Timbs, 84 N.E.3d 1179, 1181 (Ind. 2017) (quoting trial court).

[ii] Id.

[iii] McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742, 808 (2010) (Thomas, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment).