Indiana Supreme Court rules for man who spent years battling state for his Land Rover
Tyson Timbs goes to Grant County Superior Court in Marion for the evidentiary hearing about whether he gets Range Rover back after 7 years. IndyStar
Tyson Timbs spent years battling the state’s 2013 seizure of his prized Land Rover. On Thursday, he may have finally emerged victorious after the Indiana Supreme Court issued an opinion in his favor.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote on Thursday that Timbs had long met his burden of proving to various courts that the state was violating his constitutional rights by seizing a car worth at least $35,000. At that value, the seizure amounted to an excessive fine against Timbs for the felony drug dealing charges he faced in 2013.
Under Indiana law the maximum fine for Timbs’ crime was $10,000 — well below the value of his white four-by-four.
“Reminiscent of Captain Ahab’s chase of the white whale Moby Dick, this case has wound its way from the trial court all the way to the United States Supreme Court and back again,” Rush wrote in her opinion.
Op-ed: Civil forfeiture’s on the docket. Let’s discuss how Indiana lawyers profit from it.
But the question remained: “Was the harshness of the Land Rover’s forfeiture grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Timbs’s dealing crime and his culpability for the vehicle’s misuse?” Rush concluded that it was, and rejected the state’s request against Timbs. Three other Indiana Supreme Court justices concurred, and one dissented.
“Today’s ruling is an important victory for property rights across Indiana,” Sam Gedge, Timbs’ attorney, said in a prepared statement. “No one should have to spend eight years fighting the government just to get back their car.”
The Indiana Attorney General’s Office can still try to appeal this case to the U.S. Supreme Court one last time. IndyStar has requested comment from the office on whether they plan to appeal.
When reached over the phone, Gedge told IndyStar they’re ready to keep fighting if that’s the case.
“We’re hoping that the Indiana attorney general will let this saga come to an end,” Gedge said.
IndyStar has also requested an interview with Timbs.
Indiana’s Captain Ahab
According to court documents, Timbs was accused of selling heroin to undercover officers in May 2013 after a confidential informant told police that he would possibly sell heroin. He was driving the Land Rover when police arrested him.
Timbs was charged in June 2013 with two counts of dealing in a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit theft, all felonies. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to selling $260 worth of heroin and served a year of home detention and five years of probation.
His Land Rover was taken by the government in August 2013 in a process known as “civil asset forfeiture,” which allows police to seize and keep property alleged to have been used in a crime.
In the state’s eyes, the car was fair game because Timbs used it to drive to his dealer to purchase heroin. That’s where Timbs — Indiana’s Captain Ahab, to run with Chief Justice Rush’s analogy — began his court odyssey.
A judge in Grant County, where the case originated, first ruled that the seizure was excessive in 2015. The state, represented by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, appealed that decision up to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
Judges sided with Timbs again, ruling that the seizure violated the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause. The state appealed again — now up to the Indiana Supreme Court.
Judges sided with the state that time, so Timbs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The federal court heard the case, sided with Timbs, and passed it back to the Indiana Supreme Court which then passed it back to Grant County.
The Grant County court rules, again, in Timbs’ favor.
Undeterred, the state appealed once more to the Indiana Supreme Court, which closed the most recent leg of the case with its opinion issued Thursday.
“The State of Indiana has spent nearly a decade trying to confiscate a vehicle from a low-income recovering addict,” Gedge wrote in his prepared statement on Thursday.
Timbs originally purchased the Land Rover after receiving about $75,000 from a life insurance policy following his father’s death.
Former IndyStar reporter Crystal Hill contributed.
Call IndyStar courts reporter Johnny Magdaleno at 317-273-3188 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @IndyStarJohnny
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Published at Fri, 11 Jun 2021 22:29:47 +0000