The government has long asserted that it has the right to seize assets that are related to a person’s criminal activity, but the United States Supreme Court just dealt a blow to states that are making this claim. A recent ruling notes that states can’t impose excessive forfeitures as criminal punishments.

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, which upholds the Eighth Amendment rights given to people in this country. States have claimed that they had the right to take any assets that were used in criminal activity, but liberals and conservatives on the Supreme Court agreed that this amendment applies to both local and state governments, just as well as the federal government.

At the center of the case was a man and his Land Rover. That vehicle, which was named as a plaintiff in the case, was seized by the state of Indiana when the driver was caught selling $400 worth of drugs. The man claimed that taking his $42,000 Land Rover, which was purchased with money from his father’s life insurance policy, was disproportionate to the crime.

This case highlights a serious problem in this country. Far too many governments are using funds collected in civil and criminal cases to pay for services. This leaves citizens who are involved in the criminal justice system having to take on debt, and it is said to impact low-income individuals most severely.

The financial incentive is the root cause of some departments and prosecutors continuing to abuse their ability to seize and sell assets to fund their services. This ruling could put a stop to that abuse of power. Still, people who have had assets seized might have to fight to get them back. If you are in this position, start your case quickly since there are time limits.