SCOTUS: The state can confiscate a car if the driver dives 5 MPH over the speed limit?
The case being heard revolves around the 8th Amendment which states;
"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
In the United States the punishment is supposed to fit the crime. All too often however this concept is thrown out in favor of the interests of law enforcement. That civil forfeiture laws (policing for profit) still exist in this country is an example of this disregard for this important part the Constitution.
The court has formally held that most of the Bill of Rights applies to states as well as the federal government, but it has not done so on the Eighth Amendment’s excessive-fines ban.
Justice Neil Gorsuch was incredulous that Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher was urging the justices to rule that states should not be held to the same standard.
“Here we are in 2018 still litigating incorporation of the Bill of Rights. Really? Come on, general,” Gorsuch said to Fisher, using the term for holding that constitutional provisions apply to the states.
Justice Stephen Breyer said under Fisher’s reading police could take the car of a driver caught going 5 mph (8 kph) above the speed limit.
It seems clear when reading the 8th Amendment that the founders feared that police power might be used to line the pockets of those with such powers. They recognized the temptation inherent in law enforcement work to leverage the power of the law against the citizenry. They recognized that without a check police might abuse confiscatory powers.
The case at hand involves the seizure of a Land Rover from a drug dealer. The dealer was caught selling $400 worth of heroin. The police then took his $40,000 Land Rover as part of his punishment.
This seems excessive. Though some would argue that the crime was serious (the drug war is worse), just taking the equivalent of $40,000 from someone who likely has few assets for such a crime seems disproportionate. It seems excessive.
It looks like the Supreme Court might agree. It’d be nice to get a couple more Neil Gorsuch’s on the bench.