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January President's Message

Richard S. Vecchio, Esq.


Our New WCBA Website Is Up and Running
As I hope everyone knows, our new website was successfully launched in November. If you have not yet set up your log-in information and updated your profile, please do so as soon as you can. An email was sent to all members on November 26th with a link to set up your new Username and Password. 

Here are some of the key features of the new website:
You can access and update your member profile at any time. The website is mobile friendly; we have full access to the site from any smartphone or tablet. (Sorry, no access from a flip phone).

We have access to the Membership Directory—go ahead and add your photo if you like. We can register for the Lawyer Referral Service, and track all referred cases. (Anyone who has not registered for the WCBA Lawyer Referral Service, or has not participated in the last few years, I encourage you to register. The process is expected to work much more efficiently. And the fee is minimal).

You can view all of your WCBA activities—including CLEs, LRS, advertising and sponsorships—and pay and print receipts from the MyWCBA page.
In the near future, you can register to join Committees and Section; and participate in Committee and Section E-Communities. This will provide an easy way to communicate with other Section and Committee members. Let’s all register and help make this new website a great asset for the WCBA and all of our members. Please feel free to provide feedback to help us make the website work well, and to continually improve it in the future.

Who Is Tyson Timbs?
This column is my ninth President’s Message. With this, I have four remaining. I want to use some of the remainder of my term to also write about interesting legal issues, even beyond Westchester’s borders. 

I was intrigued by recent news reports regarding a case argued in the United States Supreme Court in November, on appeal from the Indiana Supreme Court. The case involved the civil forfeiture of a $42,000 Land Rover which was used in a low-level drug sale. The man involved, Tyson Timbs, legally purchased the Land Rover with the proceeds of his father’s life insurance policy. He then used the vehicle to drive to a drug sale. It is reported that he pleaded guilty to the sale of $225 of drugs to undercover police. That’s it: $225. Mr. Timbs was sentenced to house arrest and thereafter, probation, and had to pay a number of fines. 
Here’s where the case gets interesting. The State of Indiana attempted to confiscate the $42,000 Land Rover under its civil forfeiture laws. The trial court and an intermediate appellate court ruled that Mr. Timbs was protected under the 8th Amendment of the U.S Constitution (Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted), and rejected the State’s attempts to seize his vehicle. Of significance, the maximum fine that could have been imposed was $10,000. Considering the $225 sale, and the $10,000 maximum fine, the $42,000 certainly seems “excessive”. 

The Indiana Supreme Court reversed, holding that the U.S. Supreme Court has never explicitly held that that the excessive fines clause in the 8th Amendment applied to the States, through “incorporation” under the 14th Amendment. (Remember that from law school?) The Indiana Supreme Court took this position, notwithstanding that the U.S. Supreme Court had previously held that the excessive fines clause limited the federal government’s ability to confiscate property, and had held that the other two 8th Amendment clauses applied to the states through incorporation. Why take such a position?

It seems that the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision was either punitive, or an attempt to protect a revenue raising mechanism for the state. (How much attorney time and costs did Indiana expend to pursue this appeal?) The reports I have read indicate a skeptical U.S. Supreme Court bench, from both sides of the aisle. Was the Indiana Supreme Court decision fair? Just? Constitutional? Given U.S. Supreme Court precedent, isn’t the result obvious? If so, then why? A decision is expected this term. 

As always, I can be reached at President@wcbany.org.