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A big nail unanimously driven into the drug war’s coffin

Thursday, Feb 21, 2019

* Reuters

In a decision that may curb the rise of financial penalties and property seizures in the U.S. criminal justice system, the Supreme Court on Wednesday for the first time ruled that the U.S. Constitution’s ban on “excess fines” applies to states as well as the federal government.

The nine justices ruled unanimously in favor of an Indiana man named Tyson Timbs who argued that police violated his rights by seizing his $42,000 Land Rover vehicle after he was convicted as a heroin dealer.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, back on the bench for a second straight day after undergoing lung cancer surgery in December, wrote the court’s opinion, which clarified the applicability of the “excessive fines” prohibition contained in the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

“For good reason, the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history. Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties,” Ginsburg said in court as she announced the ruling.

The vehicle was taken in a process called civil asset forfeiture that permits police to seize and keep property involved in a crime.

* NBC

The Eighth Amendment’s other two restrictions, forbidding cruel and unusual punishment and banning excessive bail, were previously declared to restrict state as well as federal authority.

When the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, it imposed limits only on the federal government. The Supreme Court has gradually ruled that most of its provisions also apply to the states. […]

Indiana argued that even if the ban on excessive fines applied to the states, the restriction should apply only to fines that a person has to pay, not to the seizure of property used to commit a crime.

“We disagree,” the Supreme Court said Wednesday, finding that the right is fundamental and deeply rooted in the justice system.

* Nina Totenberg at NPR

[Ginsburg] noted that those fines could be used to retaliate against political enemies and have been used as a source of revenue.

The ruling effectively means states and local municipalities cannot use fines as a mechanism for raising revenue, something many local governments do.

* One more

Thus, now the only rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights that are not incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment to the states are: the Third Amendment prohibiting quartering of soldiers, Fifth Amendment right to a grand jury indictment in a criminal case; and the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial in civil cases.

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