Whether the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Held: The Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause is an “incorporated” protection applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause. Timbs pleaded guilty in Indiana state court to drug charges. Indiana sought civil forfeiture of his vehicle, valued at $42,000, which was over four times the maximum fine for his offense. The trial court found the forfeiture would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the offense and therefore unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Indiana Supreme Court reversed, holding the clause constrains only federal action and is inapplicable to state impositions. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. Held: Vacated and remanded. A protection afforded by the Bill of Rights is incorporated if it is fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty or deeply rooted in our Nation’s history and tradition. Incorporated guarantees are enforced against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment. Under the Eighth Amendment, “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed.” The protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history. Excessive fines can be used to chill freedom of speech or can be employed “in a measure out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence, for fines are a source of revenue, while other forms of punishment cost a state money.” The court concluded the protection is both fundamental and deeply rooted in this Nation’s history. The State argued that the clause does not apply to civil in rem forfeiture proceedings. However, in Austin v. United States (1993) 509 U. S. 602, the court held that civil in rem forfeiture proceedings fall within the clause’s protection when they are at least partially punitive, as here. Moreover, in considering whether the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates a protection contained in the Bill of Rights, the court only asks whether the right guaranteed?not each and every particular application of that right?is fundamental or deeply rooted. [Editor’s Note: Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh. Justice Gorsuch also filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.] This case was decided on 2/20/2019.