Federal Appeals Archives

Does the Constitution's 'excessive fines' clause apply to states?

In 2015, Tyson Timbs pled guilty to heroin charges and sentenced to five years' detention and probation. However, since his 2012 Land Rover was allegedly used to transport the drugs, the state of Indiana seized it as property that had been involved in crime. The vehicle was worth approximately $42,000 -- four times the maximum fine the state could impose for the crime he committed. The trial judge and an appeals court ruled that the seizure violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "excessive fines."

Judge: Tennessee can't revoke driver licenses for unpaid tickets

If you can't afford to pay your Tennessee traffic ticket, the state may have threatened to take away your driver's license -- or it may already have done so. If so, you probably thought that license revocation was a strikingly counterproductive way of getting people to pay debts. After all, most people in Tennessee need to drive to and from work. No license means no work, making it even more difficult to pay off that speeding ticket.

Judge: Tennessee can't take away driver's licenses for court debt

A federal judge has ruled that Tennessee's practice of revoking driver's licenses merely because defendants can't afford to pay court fines and fees. Since the law doesn't provide an exception for the indigent, it violates people's right to due process and equal protection under the law.

Supreme Court affirms warrants required for searches around homes

The U.S. Supreme Court has reaffirmed that police need to obtain a warrant to search the premises around someone's home, even if they think they have spotted stolen property there. They aren't allowed to take a quick peek and initiate a search based on what they see.

Driving a rental car? Police need probable cause to search you

When you're driving in your own car, the police can't just pull you over for no reason -- they need reasonable suspicion that you've committed an offense. Once they've stopped you, they need probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed before they can perform a full search of your vehicle. This is because the Fourth Amendment prohibits government agents from performing unreasonable searches and seizures.

SCOTUS: Certain constitutional appeals still allowed after pleas

The U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled in favor of an appeal for a man who styles himself a "constitutional bounty hunter." He pled guilty to a gun possession crime but then sought to appeal the constitutionality of the statute.

Supreme Court: Is phone location data admissible without warrant?

The U.S. Supreme Court has just heard an appeal on whether police can collect cellphone location data without a warrant and still have it be admissible against criminal defendants. The case pits Americans' privacy rights against the government's interest in easy access to personal data that can solve crimes.

When does having separate trials violate double jeopardy?

Sometimes, a single defendant is subjected to two separate trials. This is often done in an effort to protect the defendant's right to a fair trial when something in the first trial would create undue prejudice among the jury in the second trial, or vice versa. But what if part of the second trial depends on facts being decided in the first trial?

Improper jury instructions overturn conviction of NY assemblyman

Former New York assembly speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted in November 2015 of public corruption charges including extortion, money laundering and honest services fraud. This week, a three-judge federal appeals panel overturned his convictions on those three counts. A 2016 Supreme Court decision has narrowed the definition of public corruption since his conviction, but the instructions the jury was given in the Silver case reflected the old definition.

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