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Supreme Court Weakens Police's Ability to Seize Civil Assets in Drug Raids

The Supreme Court's most recent ruling is a major blow to one of the most controversial aspects of the War on Drugs.

The Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement must cut back on their civil forfeiture programs, a policy where police officers confiscate property, money and possessions of people suspected of crimes. The Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause applies to states as well as the federal government, so states and local governments can no longer collect excessive fines, fees or forfeitures.

The case surrounding the ruling involved an Indiana man who was arrested in an undercover drug operation. The man pled guilty, paid approximately $1,200 in fees, and was sentenced to home detention and probation. Then months after his arrest, police officers seized the man's car, presumably claiming he purchased it using illegal funds when really he used his father's life insurance policy. An initial court said that the seizure was unconstitutional, but then the Indiana Supreme Court said it was legal because the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines clause doesn't apply to states. The U.S. Supreme Court clearly disagreed, as their ruling was unanimous.

This doesn't mean that civil forfeitures are now illegal. Police will still be allowed to do so, they just can't do it "excessively." Unfortunately most cases involving civil forfeiture are nearly impossible for the defendant to win, as the government usually has a very low standard they need to meet to justify forfeiture. But perhaps this ruling will be used in future cases to help prevent abuses associated with asset forfeiture.

(h/t Drug Policy Alliance)


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