Friday, November 02, 2018

Fall 2018 SCOTUS in the Classroom Case

Edit: A unanimous decision in Timbs v. Indiana was made on February 20, 2019. Visit our case page for links to the updated case summary and the Court's opinion.

We are happy to announce our first SCOTUS in the Classroom case of the 2018–19 school year: Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana. This case features issues currently in the news like excessive fines, civil forfeitures, and opioid addiction. It even names a luxury SUV as a litigant in the case. We encourage teachers to feature this case in class as it is being argued and decided at the Court!

Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana: Tyson Timbs, who was suffering from an opioid addiction, received a sizable life insurance settlement upon the death of his father. He used more than half of the money, $42,000, to by a Land Rover. After pleading guilty to selling just under $400 of heroin, his Land Rover was seized using a process called civil asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture is a controversial procedure because the law enforcement agency seizing the property potentially profits from its use or sale. Timbs appealed his case arguing that the seizure of his Land Rover amounted to an excessive fine in violation of the Eighth Amendment because the SUV was worth over four times the maximum fine for his crimes. He won his appeals in the lower courts. However, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the appeals court decision and found for the state of Indiana, declaring there was no precedent in which the Supreme Court incorporated the Excessive Fines Clause. Incorporation is the application of the Bill of Rights to the states through the 14th Amendment. Over the past 150 years since the 14th Amendment was ratified, the Supreme Court has ruled in many cases incorporating almost all of the Bill of Rights, including the other two provisions in the Eighth Amendment, but not the Excessive Fines Clause.

There are many interesting questions presented in this case such as:

  • Is civil asset forfeiture of property a “fine” for the purposes of the Eighth Amendment?
  • If a forfeiture is indeed a fine, is this particular seizure of Timbs’ Land Rover excessive considering his criminal activity?
  • Should the Excessive Fines Clause be incorporated like the other Eighth Amendment guarantees (cruel and unusual punishment and excessive bail)?

Timbs v. Indiana presents a rare opportunity to teach about selective incorporation as it is happening since almost all provisions of the Bill of Rights have previously been incorporated. It will challenge students to consider issues of federalism, the power of law enforcement, and the rights of the accused. 

Timbs will be argued on November 28, 2018. Street Law's case summary and other resources are now available on the SCOTUS in the Classroom page. Teachers and students are encouraged to hold moot courts of the case the same weeks that the Supreme Court hears arguments, which means students can follow discussion and analysis in the news and listen to or read a transcript of the actual oral arguments at the Court. You can also find instructions and handouts for conducting a moot court on the SCOTUS in the Classroom page.

About SCOTUS in the Classroom: Each year, Street Law selects a few of the most classroom-relevant, student-friendly cases being argued in the U.S. Supreme Court and provides teachers with everything they need to conduct moot courts of each. Past cases are always available on our website, under Resources.