Indiana man has been fighting to get luxury SUV back after 2013 drug conviction

Tyson Timbs (Institute of Justice)
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Marion, IN (WTHR) — Tyson Timbs admits he’s made some wrong turns in life. But nothing that should’ve cost him his car.

“Our system is supposed to be about rehabilitation,” said Timbs. “That's not what any of this is.”

Timbs pleaded guilty in 2013 to heroin charges. He served home detention, got probation and paid several hundred dollars in fines.

Police then seized his Land Rover, claiming Timbs has used it to traffic drugs. And that’s when Timbs said he went from criminal to victim.

“We already came to an agreement in court what I would do, with probation and all that,” he said. “And then they throw this is on.”

Timbs had bought the Land Rover months before with proceeds from his father’s life insurance policy.

“And if someone like me is supposed to be trying to rehabilitate myself and reintegrate myself into society, what sense does it make to make it harder?" he asked.

"This case is about whether the state can kick a person when they're down,” said Wesley Hottot, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, the non-profit legal organization representing Timbs.

Hottot has argued that this case is symptomatic of a nationwide problem involving government that goes too far.

Hottot explained that the law allows the government to take property, sell it and keep the proceeds if police believe it was connected to a crime. It’s called civil forfeiture.

But Timbs’ legal team said forcing Timbs to forfeit his $42,000 Land Rover was excessive, given the crime. They say he didn’t have a prior record of drug use and has since beaten addiction and turned his life around.

"It doesn't help the people of this state for Tyson not to have a car. He's got obligations to go to probation meetings, get to work, he's got to go to substance abuse counseling,” said Hottot. “All of those things are impossible in a place like Marion, Indiana without a car.”

Last year, the case sparked a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against excessive fines and forfeitures.

The higher courts have now sent the case back to the local court to essentially be tried again, using new guidelines.

Kain Hudson, Indiana’s deputy solicitor general, argued the case for the state. He said they still do not believe seizing the Land Rover was excessive.

“The Indiana legislature passed a statute specifying precisely what property is forfeitable, and there's no dispute now that the Land Rover is forfeitable under the statute,” said Hudson. “And … we know by Mr. Timbs' own testimony that he used the car to commit many crimes. In those sorts of circumstances, it's not grossly disproportionate to take the vehicle.”

Timbs said he still hopes to eventually get his vehicle back. More than six years after his legal battle began, the Land Rover is still in the custody of a Grant County’s Joint Enforcement Against Narcotics team.

But he said it has become about much more than a car.

"This started because I wanted it back,” said Timbs. “I’ve kept going because I don't want this to happen to anybody else.”

A Grant County judge heard testimony in the case Friday. Both sides will soon file additional briefs and the judge could make a ruling in the next few weeks.