Big news today from the U.S. Supreme Court. It ruled unanimously that the Constitution limits governments in taking private property used to commit crimes.

This was an Indiana case over a seized Land Rover. The court said “excessive fines” were unconstitutional and the 14th Amendment extended that prohibition to local governments.

The particular case must go back to Indiana for final resolution.

Lawyers? Should this mean changes in procedures used for forfeitures in Arkansas, most often, as in the Indiana case, in operation of drug task forces.

UPDATE: As it happens, there’s pending legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bart Hester, to take some steps to curb the practice. It would allow forfeiture only in case of a conviction and only if related to a felony that permits forfeiture and is related to the item being seized.

Excessive fines are a problem at every level, however, as has been demonstrated in the lawsuit in Pulaski County and efforts to reform procedures in Craighead County at the district court level. People have been punished for not paying fines and fees they couldn’t pay.  Said Denise Chai, campaign chair of the decARcerate Campaign to Curb Criminal Justice Debt said:

According to the District Court Benchbook, judges are supposed to determine ability to pay and not punish people for their inability to pay, as if they had willfully not paid their court fines and fees. However, judges seldom check as to whether or not people can afford to pay and simply send them to go get set up on a payment plan, where they pay what they can (plus a $10 monthly fee) for as long as it takes to pay off the debt. This might seem merciful, but when people are on extremely limited budgets, squeezing $30 or $50 per month out of them for a year or more, when they need this money for rent, food, medicine, etc etc, is pretty terrible.