Civil Asset Forfeiture Has Courts Weighing Eighth Amendment

Most Americans find it difficult to believe that private property can be seized by law enforcement officials with little process of law and no criminal conviction. Increasingly, business owners, individual citizens, and corporations are learning about civil asset forfeiture, a process in which a relatively low standard of proof is required for a property seizure. In Tennessee, property can be seized by the state on the suspicion of criminal activity; and Tennessee has one of the worst property forfeiture records in the nation. Innocent property owners can recover their property once a seizure takes place; however, it is an expensive and time consuming process to undertake, especially with vehicle seizures. Link to News Channel 5 Nashville:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9sZSuk09Gg&t=22s

The vast majority of property seized is cash, mainly from westbound lanes of major highways. In Tennessee law enforcement has more than a tendency to profile and target westbound traffic, simply because drug couriers are assumed to be making their return trip laden with cash. Legitimate business travelers sometimes fall into the forfeiture trap while carrying cash. Link to Institute for Justice: https://youtu.be/KhAa2vep1z0

George Reby, a New Jersey businessman, in route to Nashville to attend a business conference was stopped in Putnam County, Tennessee and experienced the seizure of $22,000 cash from his car. The officer that seized the cash under civil asset forfeiture did not charge him or even accuse him of a crime. The police report that accompanied the cash seizure stated that “common people do not carry large amounts of cash”. After an expensive legal process, and trips back to court in Tennessee, Mr. Reby recovered his cash. CBS News 60 Minutes featured another Tennessee businessman that fell victim to civil asset forfeiture at the Nashville airport after Metro Police, TSA Agents, and airline employees observed Willie Jones, a landscaping contractor on his way to Texas to purchase supplies, paying his airfare with cash. Law enforcement stated that he fit the profile of a drug runner in explaining the seizure of $9000 cash from his person. His money was later returned after he proved his innocence in court. The Reby and Jones cases are cited in various amicus briefs in a case heard by the United States Supreme Court on November 28, 2018, Timbs v. Indiana, #17-1091, case link to follow:

https://www.supremecourt.gov/search.aspx?filename=/docket/docketfiles/html/public/17-1091.html

The Institute for Justice will argue the case on behalf of the petitioner Tyson Timbs against the state of Indiana, an Eighth Amendment excessive fines case with national implications. With the explosion of cash and property forfeitures across the United States, measuring in the billions of dollars, business organizations, conservative action groups, legal scholars, civil libertarian organizations, and business federations including the National Chamber of Commerce have filed amicus briefs on behalf of Timbs, aiming to curb the abuse of laws that encourage excessive fines on a wide range of business organizations and individuals. Excessive fines and forfeitures are known to dramatically increase the cost of consumer goods and services, and to suppress economic development. After a position statement was requested, the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce indicated on September 19, 2018 that it will not take a position on the excessive fines case, stating the following: “The Chamber Board of Directors official statement on your request is that the chamber is not a political organization and will not take a position on this case.”

Source: Article submitted by David Seal

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