A $40,000 Land Rover seized by the state of Indiana in connection with a drug crime has been returned to its owner, Tyson Timbs, pending final determination by judicial authorities as to the appropriateness of the seizure of the vehicle by law enforcement under civil asset forfeiture. This long legal battle has made it to the United States Supreme Court and twice to the Indiana Supreme Court. The owner is represented by counsel from the Institute for Justice, which is a law firm that works on prominent public interest cases.
Civil asset forfeiture is a method used by law enforcement to impound the ill-gotten gains as the result of a crime from being used to continue to symie law enforcement, such as a white collar criminal using millions fraudulently obtained from insider trading to work against the government as they make their case regarding the pending charges and allegations. Importantly, only being charged with a crime, not convicted, is enough for civil asset forfeiture to be legally enforceable. There are likely many Americans who are unaware of this.
However, civil asset forfeiture only applies to the money, property, or other assets which has been illegally obtained. It does not apply to those things which were purchased or obtained legally. For example, if Defendant A is a doctor by day but a drug dealer by night, there are some funds and property where his legitimate, legal income makes them unable to be seized. Defendant A’s speedboat purchased with money from the drug operation would certainly be fair game as would any other funds that come directly from the illegal operation. However, his home purchased before he began his illegal activities and his 401k which he has been contributing to would not be eligible for civil asset forfeiture.
In the owner’s case, he was charged with and pleaded guilty to the crime of selling heroin. As part of the charges, the police seized his Land Rover believing it to have been acquired as part of the drug scheme. However, the possessor was able to show that the Land Rover was acquired as part of a life insurance payout he received following the death of his father. After various legal rulings at the appellate level, the return of the vehicle to its owner was found to be proper due to the fact it’s seizure constituted an ‘excessive’ fine for the crime. The said case is legally significant because it led the US Supreme Court to instruct the Indiana Supreme Court to determine what constituted an excessive fine in their state, leading to the creation of a three prong test.
While this case may not be settled yet, it has given direction regarding civil asset forfeiture for future cases in the state of Indiana and may be instructive to other states and jurisdictions grappling with this important issue. No matter what the direct outcome is for the owner, we can see that this area of the law is beginning to be clarified at least in Indiana.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your property been seized using asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of South Florida’s most experienced civil asset forfeiture attorneys.