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$225 drug conviction has $42,000 price tag

Any criminal conviction can have long-term consequences. Even though a criminal defense can reduce charges, a person may still face catastrophic financial and personal penalties. In one case pending before the US Supreme Court, a person a lost his $42,000 Land Rover under Indiana's civil forfeiture laws because of his conviction for a $225 drug transaction that did not lead to imprisonment.

The defendant bought the vehicle by spending part of the $73,000 he inherited from his father. At the time, he was an addict and spent the remaining inheritance on heroin and opioids. He twice used his Land Rover to obtain and sell drugs to undercover police officers.

He ultimately pled guilty to one of these sales involving $225. An Indiana court sentenced him to one year of house arrest, five years of probation and fees and fines totaling $1,200.

However, law enforcement was permitted to seize his vehicle under the state's civil forfeiture laws. Because of the loss of his vehicle, he was hindered from travelling to work, going to counseling and making probation appointments.

The 37-year-old borrows his aunt's car to go to make a 40-minute commute for a job in Marion. She must take a bus to make her kidney dialysis appointments.

In a lawsuit, he claimed that his 8th Amendment rights against excessive punishments were violated. A state trial court found that the seizure was greatly disproportional and violated the amendment's second clause prohibiting excessive fines. The Land Rover was worth four times than the maximum $10,000 time for his offense and over 30 times the fine that was imposed, according to the judge. An appeals court agreed with this ruling.

The state Supreme Court reversed this decision, however. It ruled that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against excessive fines served on a restriction on the federal but did not apply to state-imposed fines.

Last month, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear argument on this appeal and potentially deal with inconsistent opinions on civil forfeiture. Defendants who face drug charges and forfeiture should seek prompt assistance from a criminal a defense attorney to assure they can assert court-provided protections.

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