US Supreme Court Will Hear Police Accountability Case

US Supreme Court Will Hear Police Accountability Case

Arlington, Virginia—This morning the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review the case of James King, an innocent college student who was savagely beaten in 2014 by a police officer and FBI agent in Grand Rapids, Michigan, after being unreasonably misidentified as a fugitive. The officers were working as members of a joint state-federal police task force. Ever since the unjustified assault, the government has played what amounts to a shell game to prevent King from holding the officers to account. Now, the nation’s highest court will weigh in on whether to provide the government yet another tool to shield its agents from accountability. The Institute for Justice (IJ), which represents King, will urge the Court to instead allow King to get compensation for his injuries.

This case is fundamentally about the obstacles that the government and courts have placed in the way of citizens trying to make law enforcement pay for intentional, outrageous abuses. In King’s case, he brought two kinds of federal claims because he was uncertain of the officers’ status as joint agents. First, King brought constitutional claims against the officers themselves. Second, he brought claims against the U.S. government under a statute called the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Bringing different kinds of claims is normal in American law. But now the U.S. Solicitor General is taking the position that because James brought claims under the FTCA, he cannot also bring constitutional claims against the officers. In other words, the government is asserting that simply bringing an FTCA claim is like stepping on a tripwire that destroys your constitutional claims.

“We hope the Court will reject the government’s request for yet another way to shield officers from constitutional accountability,” said IJ Attorney Patrick Jaicomo. “Because members of joint federal-state task forces have power under both state and federal law, they should be more accountable, not less, when they use that power to violate the Constitution.”

The government first argued for this novel immunity from liability before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the court rejected the argument and also held that the officers were not entitled to another form of immunity under the doctrine of “qualified immunity.” But before the case could proceed, the U.S. Solicitor General petitioned the Supreme Court to carve out a new form of immunity under the FTCA that would preclude plaintiffs like King from bringing alternative claims under the FTCA and Constitution.

“In short, the government is asking the Court to provide another shell for its shell game that would make it harder for plaintiffs to bring claims against government officers and easier for officers to avoid accountability for their constitutional violations,” said IJ President and General Counsel Scott Bullock.

“If our constitutional rights mean anything, we must be able to enforce them,” explained IJ attorney Anya Bidwell. “People shouldn’t face a system rigged against them when they are trying to vindicate their rights, especially when those rights have been so clearly violated, as in King’s case.”

IJ will ask the Court not to create another means for the government to shield officers from constitutional accountability.

“There are already too many, and we are hopeful the Supreme Court will agree,” Bidwell said.

Although the Court accepted the government’s appeal, it did not accept King’s cross-petition in this case.  This is the first U.S. Supreme Court case the Institute for Justice will argue before the High Court as part of its Project on Immunity and Accountability, which seeks to hold government officials more accountable when they violate individual rights.

Reprinted from the Institute for Justice.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules Unanimously That States Cannot Impose Excessive Fines

U.S. Supreme Court Rules Unanimously That States Cannot Impose Excessive Fines

In an historic ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning held that the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment protects Americans not just against the federal government, but against states and local authorities too. No matter which state you live in, every level of government must now abide by the federal Constitution’s guarantee that property owners will be safe from excessive fines and forfeitures. “[T]he historical and logical case for concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the Court, “is overwhelming.”

Indiana resident Tyson Timbs is at the center of this legal fight. His road to the U.S. Supreme Court began shortly after his father died, when he received more than $70,000 in life-insurance proceeds and bought a new car. For years, Tyson had struggled with drug addiction; a painkiller prescription had escalated to heroin abuse. Soon after buying his new car, Tyson sold four grams of heroin to fund his addiction. The purchasers were undercover officers, and police arrested Tyson. They seized his car too.

Tyson pleaded guilty to one count of drug dealing, which led to house arrest, then probation, and $1,200 in related fees. Most importantly, the arrest was a wake-up call for Tyson. He got his life back on track, holding down a job and taking steps to battle his addiction.

Read the rest at ij.org.

Friend-of-the-Court Briefs Stack up Against the State In U.S. Supreme Court’s Timbs Excessive Fines Clause Case

Friend-of-the-Court Briefs Stack up Against the State In U.S. Supreme Court’s Timbs Excessive Fines Clause Case

Arlington, Va.—In late November or early December, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Timbs v. State of Indiana, a case that will decide whether the U.S. Constitution’s protection against excessive fines applies to state and local governments, just as it has applied to the federal government since 1791. The case involves the forfeiture of a $42,000 vehicle for a crime involving a few hundred dollars. The Indiana Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause applies to only the federal government and does not apply at all to state and local authorities.

“Our client, Tyson Timbs, has already paid his debt to society,” said Wesley Hottot, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing Timbs. “He’s taken responsibility for what he’s done. He’s paid fees. He’s in drug treatment. He’s holding down a job. He’s staying clean. But the State of Indiana wants to take his property, too, and give the proceeds to the agency that seized it. As we explained in our merits brief, there are limits, and this forfeiture crosses the line. We are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling. This case is about more than just a vehicle; it’s about whether 330 million Americans get to enjoy their rights under the U.S. Constitution.”

Nineteen amicus (or “friend-of-the-court”) briefs have been filed thus far in Timbs. Among the more notable amici are:

  • The ACLU, R-Street Institute, Fines and Fees Justice Center and Southern Poverty Law Center, which submitted a brief that examines the effect of excessive fines and fees on the poor, as well as the use of fees to raise revenue for the government.
  • The American Bar Association’s brief examines how the Excessive Fines Clause protects equality of justice under the law.

Read the rest at ij.org.

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