The Supreme Court decided Timbs v. Indiana yesterday, holding that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is an incorporated protection applicable to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. What does the decision mean for North Carolina?
I spent a few years working on drug cases when I was a prosecutor, so I was generally aware that North Carolina has a set of laws that impose taxes on “unauthorized substances.” See G.S. 105-113.105 – 113. Just like cigarettes, cars, or blue jeans, these unauthorized substances are commodities that people buy and sell, so they are subject to taxation by the state.
I was also aware that, not surprisingly, virtually no one pays these taxes or obtains the appropriate “tax stamps” to put on their drugs and moonshine. Instead, the laws are used primarily as a mechanism to pursue civil forfeiture of a defendant’s assets after he or she is convicted of a drug offense.
But recently, I began to wonder – are these laws purely theoretical? Is it even possible for drug dealers to comply? Does the Department of Revenue keep big rolls of stamps behind the counter, like a post office? What would happen if someone walked into a Revenue office one day and said “hello, will you sell me some tax stamps for illegal substances, please?”
I wanted to find out, so that’s exactly what I did.
On Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced major new limits on asset forfeiture. In a nutshell, he put a stop to the federal civil forfeiture of assets seized by state and local law enforcement and “adopted” under the Equitable Sharing program. The details are a little fuzzy, but this may be a very big deal in the world of forfeiture, for reasons I discuss below.