In April, I reported on the case of Tyson Timbs. Back then, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the 2013 seizure of his car using the process known as civil asset forfeiture. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear his case and determine whether the vehicle should be returned to him.
Tyson had been living in Ohio for years, struggling with addiction. After a work injury, he became addicted to opioids. Later, he turned to heroin. Then his Aunt Wendy fell ill. Tyson moved to Marion, Indiana to look after her.
“I actually thought, ‘Hey, maybe this is going to be the cure to all my problems,’” says Tyson. He hoped he could start a new life in Indiana and leave his addiction behind. Tyson soon learned he had grown dependent on the drugs.
Tyson was arrested in 2013 for selling $500 worth of heroin to undercover police officers. He was sentenced to a year of home detention and five years of probation. Since then, Tyson has turned his life around. Today he is clean, and he speaks at state and local task forces about his fight with drug addiction.
While Tyson accepts responsibility for his criminal actions, he has fought the seizure of his car. It was taken at the same time as he was arrested. However, since the car was taken using a civil and not a criminal procedure, that case is unrelated to the criminal case which was brought against him. In fact, in Indiana a criminal conviction is not needed for law enforcement to seize property–they only need to connect the property to a crime by “a preponderance of the evidence” to take it.
Tyson’s legal argument rests on the Excessive Fines Clause of Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In Indiana, the maximum fine that can be levied against Tyson for his crimes is $10,000. However, the vehicle seized was worth more than four times that amount. Tyson’s attorney, Wesley Hottot, says this violates the Constitution.
“The Indiana Supreme Court… decided, to everyone’s surprise, the Excessive Fines Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not apply in this state,” says Hottot. “This case is about more than just Tyson’s vehicle. This case is about whether 330 million Americans enjoy the protections of the U.S. Constitution.”
At first, Tyson was angry at what had happened. “I hated the police for what they did to me,” he says. Today, however, he is focused on the bigger picture. “This isn’t about getting my truck back. That hasn’t been the case for me for a long time,” explains Tyson. “For me, this is principle: they shouldn’t be able to do this to people.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a brief supporting Tyson’s case. In it, they argue the use of civil asset forfeiture to impose excessive fines is “undermining economic growth.”
“Newspapers and legal literature from the 1980s forward are replete with examples of large fines being handed out for even the smallest of violations—at great cost to businesses and their customers,” states the brief.
The effect of the loss of his vehicle on Tyson’s family is clear. He now has a job, but he has to borrow Aunt Wendy’s car for the commute. This means she is forced to take public transport for her kidney dialysis appointments.
The Supreme Court will hear Tyson’s case this fall. Their decision could reshape the use of civil asset forfeiture across the country.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.