Mark Joseph Stern, writing for Slate:
The Supreme Court struck an extraordinary blow for criminal justice reform on Wednesday, placing real limitations on policing for profit across the country. Its unanimous decision for the first time prohibits all 50 states from imposing excessive fines, including the seizure of property, on people accused or convicted of a crime. Rarely does the court hand down a ruling of such constitutional magnitude—and seldom do all nine justices agree to restrict the power that police and prosecutors exert over individuals. The landmark decision represents a broad agreement on the Supreme Court that law enforcement’s legalized theft has gone too far.
It’s rare to see a unanimous decision come out of the Supreme Court. This is excellent news for civil asset forfeiture reform. And it’s been a long time coming. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the law is crystal clear now—some things remain undefined:
But Wednesday’s decision leaves some questions unanswered. The court has already ruled that when the federal government seizes money or property, the fine must not be “grossly disproportional to the gravity of [the] offense.” Presumably, this same standard now applies to the states. But when is a forfeiture grossly disproportionate? Does Indiana’s seizure of Timbs’ Land Rover meet this standard? Ginsburg didn’t say, instead directing the Indiana Supreme Court to evaluate the question. Prepare for a flood of litigation urging federal courts to determine when civil asset forfeiture crosses this constitutional line.