In the economic doldrums of the late 1970s, the State of Michigan hit on an idea to take over some land it liked and build a car plant which would create jobs and economic benefit. The people who owned the land weren’t all that thrilled about the idea, nevertheless, the state persisted. Eventually, the Michigan Supreme Court decided that the taking was a legitimate use of eminent domain for economic benefit. Thirty-seven years later, it didn’t turn out to be such a great idea.
The State of Indiana argued yesterday that seizing a person’s car for doing 5mph over the speed limit was not an “excessive fine.” Seriously. That’s not a joke. They really argued that. The Supreme Court didn’t think that it was funny.
“nor excessive fines imposed…” – 8th Amendment
A professional musician travelling with $91,000 in cash he was going to use to buy a recording studio is stopped in Wyoming for a seat belt violation. The Police take the money, and claim that they have a right to it.
in Indiana, what happens when a young man sells four grams of heroin to an undercover cop? Obviously, he gets busted, does a year on house arrest and pays a fine. Then he decided to get his life back together and heads out to find a new job.
The cops weren’t done. They used Civil Forfeiture laws to seize his car, valued at $40,000. Don’t read too much into that value, there is a valid reason that he had the money to buy it in the first place.
He sued, and the lower State Court held that he should get his car back. After all, it was only 4 ounces of heroin. The Law enforcement agencies appealed it to the State Supreme Court.
The highest Court in Indiana, along with Mississippi, Michigan and Montana proclaimed that the 8th Amendments prohibition against excessive fines “does not apply” to it.
And so… we’re off and running to ask the Supreme Court one question: does the 8th Amendment prohibition against excessive fines apply to the States?
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed… 8th Amendment
In recent days, members of the California State Senate and Assembly have made the reformation of the Bail system a “Legislative Priority” in the State. Their reasoning is that on any given day, 63% of the people held in the States Jails have not been convicted of any crime. They are simply awaiting trial and cannot – for a variety of reasons – make bail.
The Legislative argument goes that the main reason that people cannot make bail is twofold. First that bail levels are set far too high in the State. Second is that the Bail system discriminates against those who are “poor,” in favor of those who have money. So the solution that at least two other States have elected to employ is to eliminate Bail requirements for some “low level” crimes.
The history of Bail in The United States traces its origins to 1689 and the Glorious Revolution. And, with just a single word change since, has been a cornerstone of those rights which we have held dear, both as Englishmen and as Americans.
So is Bail really discriminatory? Or is there a bigger problem? Or any problem at all? And why hasn’t the Supreme Court addressed it?
Today we look at Bail on Constitution Thursday.