Excessive Fines

The Court held in Waters-Pierce Oil Co. v. Texas, 212 U.S. 86 (1909), that States, through their police powers, have the authority to punish crimes; The Supreme Court can only interfere with state legislation if fines are grossly excessive.

The Eighth Amendment also protects against excessive civil fines, as noted in Hudson v. United States, 522 U.S. 93 (1997).  In addition to monetary payments, the excessive fines clause applies to forfeitures of property, as held in Austin v. United States, 509 U.S. 602 (1993).

When calculating fines, courts must consider the defendant’s financial resources and the burden of the fine to the defendant, as discussed in United States v. United Mine Workers, 330 U.S. 258 (1947).  In that case, the court found that a $3,500,000 fine against a union was excessive, but that a $700,000 fine was not.

In another case, the Court declared a fine as excessive in violation of the Eighth Amendment in United States v. Bajakajian, 524 U.S. 321 (1998).  In that case, a defendant was required to forfeit the entire $357,144 he used in connection with bulk cash smuggling.  The court determined the fine was unconstitutional, reasoning that the forfeiture was grossly disproportionate to the crime.

Congress superseded Bajakajian in 31 USC § 5332, which requires a defendant to forfeit all property involved in concealing more than $10,000 in currency into or outside the United States.

To determine what constitutes an excessive fine, the First Circuit enumerated factors in United States v. Jose, 499 F.3d 105 (2007).  The court considered whether the statute was designed to punish the defendant in that case; the amount of other authorized penalties; and the harm caused by the defendant.  The court determined that the forfeiture of the entire $114,948 he used for bulk cash smuggling was not grossly disproportional to the crime.

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