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U.S. Supreme Court Issues Opinion Affecting Arizona’s Ability to Seize the Property of Those Convicted of Crimes

Last month, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case that limits the government’s ability to seize the assets of those convicted of crimes. Typically, when someone is arrested for an Arizona crime, any assets that are potentially evidence will be seized. For example, it is common that a vehicle used to transport drugs will be seized as potential evidence. In the event that the defendant is found guilty, the government can proceed with a civil forfeiture claim in an attempt to keep whatever assets were seized.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant pleaded guilty to dealing in a controlled substance. When the defendant was arrested, he was driving a Land Rover that he had recently purchased for $42,000 with the proceeds from a life insurance policy.

The defendant was sentenced to one year of house arrest, followed by five years’ probation. The defendant was also fined $1,203. After the defendant was convicted, the state moved for civil forfeiture of the Land Rover. The trial court denied the government’s claim, noting that the value of the Land Rover was over four times the maximum fine for the crime for which the defendant was convicted. Thus, the court held that the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines precluded the government from taking ownership of the vehicle.

The state’s highest court, however, reversed the lower court’s ruling and found that the 8th Amendment only applied to federal actions. Thus, because this was a state criminal matter, the court determined that the Excessive Fines Clause was inapplicable. The defendant appealed.

On appeal, the Court concluded that the Excessive Fines Clause of the 8th Amendment is incorporated through the 14th Amendment and, therefore, is applicable to state court proceedings. The court explained that, initially, the rights contained in the Bill of Rights were only applicable to federal government actions. However, with the passage of the 14th Amendment, most of the rights in the Bill of Rights became incorporated against the states. Specifically, the Court explained that the rights that are “fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty,” or are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” were incorporated through the 14th Amendment.

Here, the court determined that the prohibition against excessive fines is “fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty,” or “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” In so holding, the court traced the “venerable lineage” of the Excessive Fines Clause back to 1215, when Magna Carta required that economic sanctions for a misdeed be proportionate to the wrong committed. The Court then went on to briefly document the history of the Clause and its importance since the formation of the country. Ultimately, the court reversed the state supreme court’s opinion.

Have You Been Charged with an Arizona Crime?

If you have recently been charged with an Arizona crime and the government has seized substantial assets as a result of your arrest, contact Attorney James E. Novak. Attorney James E. Novak is a dedicated Arizona criminal defense attorney with extensive experience assisting his clients defend against all types of charges, including Arizona drug crimes and gun offenses. To learn more about how Attorney Novak can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation today.

Additional Resources:

Other Articles of Interest from The Law Office of James Novak’s Award Winning Blog:

Arizona Appellate Court Upholds Search Based on Defendant’s Consent to Search Car, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, February 8, 2019

Arizona’s Self Defense and Stand Your Ground Laws, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, February 19, 2019

Can Arizona Police Stop Someone for Looking Suspicious?, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, January 28, 2019