It may have all terrain capability, state of the art navigation, and a supercharged V6 engine, but Tyson Timbs’ Land Rover does not have a definite owner.
When his father passed away leaving him an inheritance, Tyson Timbs spent $42,000 on a Land Rover and the rest on drugs to feed his personal opioid addiction.
As Timbs’ addiction worsened, he progressed into buying street heroin and was caught by an undercover police officer in a drug bust. Timbs pled guilty and was sentenced by the court to one year of house arrest, five years probation, and fines adding up to about $1,200.
This is when things took an unexpected turn. The State of Indiana moved to force Tyson Timbs to forfeit his Land Rover under the civil forfeiture law, despite federal laws against the collection of excessive fines and fees under the Eighth Amendment.
Why? A trial court found that while Timbs did use the vehicle to transport the heroin he later sold, both lower courts ruled to block the forfeiture. One court claimed taking the vehicle would be “grossly disproportional” to the offense. The Land Rover’s value is nearly four times the maximum statutory fine that can be imposed in that type of case.
The case next moved to a higher court. The Supreme Court of Indiana reversed the decision of the lower courts and ruled that the state would not be barred from taking the luxury vehicle. This court cited the fact that the United States Supreme Court had never formally held The Excessive Fines Clause to apply to the states.
The case is set for review before the U.S. Supreme Court in November 2018.
Criminal and Civil Judicial Forfeitures
The type of enforcement action taken upon Timbs can occur in either a federal or state case and can be either criminal or civil in nature.
A criminal forfeiture is brought as part of the criminal prosecution of a defendant. The property must be identified in the indictment filed against the defendant. Alternatively, civil judicial forfeiture is a legal mechanism that allows law enforcement to seize property on mere suspicion that it was involved in a crime. In civil judicial forfeiture, there are two phases: the initial seizure of the goods and then the subsequent legal action towards forfeiture.
A seizure of property occurs when law enforcement confiscates personal property they suspect is related to criminal activity. Ohio, for example, requires the government show only that seized property was used in or is the proceeds of a crime by a preponderance of the evidence. Ohio law also places the burden on the owners of the property to prove that they did not consent to, nor have any knowledge of, the crime to which their property is tied. Law enforcement can file a civil action in order to keep the proceeds for themselves through forfeiture.
Could This Happen to You?
In short, the answer is yes. Ohio is considered one of the toughest places in the country for this sort of civil forfeiture. This affords very little protection to those in the Buckeye State. This controversial, but legal tool incentivizes law enforcement by allowing agencies to keep most or all of the proceeds connected to seized goods.