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Will Ohio’s OVI Forfeiture Law Be Found Unconstitutional?

The U.S. Supreme Court recently found that states can not impose excessive fines in criminal and traffic cases. The Court ruled that the Excessive Fine Clause of the Eight Amendment applies to the states, and punishments deemed to include excessive fines are now unconstitutional. Timbs v. Indiana, 586 U.S. ____ (2019).

The Minnesota Court of Appeals, relying on the Timbs decision, found that a provision in Minnesota law that requires owners to forfeit their vehicles to the state after an OVI conviction was unconstitutional and violated the Excessive Fine Clause of the Eight Amendment. The impact of the Timbs case could cause forfeiture statutes to be declared unconstitutional across the county.



Mr. Timbs was arrested and charged with drug trafficking. In addition to the sentence imposed by the trial court, he was ordered to forfeit his vehicle. The Supreme Court held that the forfeiture was unconstitutional because it was essentially an excessive fine imposed on the defendant. The maximum fine he was facing following a guilty plea was $10,000, but his Land Rover was valued over $40,000. The Court ruled he was given an excessive fine, nearly four times the maximum amount, as a result of the forfeiture.



The Timbs decision could cause forfeiture sections of OVI laws to become unconstitutional. Not all of the laws are the same, but many states require forfeiture of a vehicle if someone is found guilty of multiple OVIs or DUIs. However, the maximum penalty for OVIs or DUIs is usually less than the value of many cars that the state is attempting to seize.

In Ohio, a court will attempt to seize a vehicle if a driver is found guilty of his or her third OVI or DUI in a ten-year period. The maximum fine on a third OVI or DUI in ten years is $2,750.

If the State of Ohio is seeking to seize a car worth $20,000, that is a penalty nearly ten times greater than the maximum fine that can be imposed under Ohio’s OVI law.

Minnesota was one of the first states to take notice of the Timbs decision and it’s impact on OVI and DUI forfeiture statutes. In a recent case, the Minnesota Court of Appeals stated that vehicle forfeitures following OVI or DUI convictions violate the Excessive Fine Clause of the Eight Amendment. It is possible that many states, including Ohio, could follow Minnesota’s example and begin to overturn OVI and DUI forfeiture statutes.



Though the tide may be turning, vehicle forfeitures following OVI convictions are still enforced in Ohio. Although a constitutional challenge is likely on the horizon, avoiding an OVI conviction is at the moment still the most effective way to avoid losing your car through forfeiture.

Your attorney can guide you through the process of challenging an OVI or DUI with the goal to get the case thrown out or reduced to a lesser charge to avoid losing your vehicle.

Contact us via email at doug@riddelllaw.com, call us at (614) 361-2804.