The Supreme Court just unanimously voted to stop the police from stealing your stuff for no reason.

In a landmark unanimous decision issued Wednesday, February 20, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled civil asset forfeiture unconstitutional because it violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against excessive fines and fees.

Civil asset forfeiture allows local law enforcement agencies to seize people’s cars, cash, homes, and pretty much anything else that is suspected of being used to commit a crime.

To get their property back, citizens have to prove it wasn’t obtained illegally, even in situations where no indictment was filed.


A few examples of ridiculous government overreach provided by Harvard Law Review:

Mary and Leon Adams resided in their West Philadelphia house for forty-six years when the police told them to vacate and initiated a civil forfeiture proceeding against the property because their adult son sold $60 worth of marijuana on the porch.

Tina Bennis faced a similar fate when the Supreme Court upheld the civil forfeiture of the car she jointly owned with her husband after he secretly had sex with a prostitute inside the vehicle.

Victor Ramos Guzman was pulled over for speeding and a state trooper seized $28,500; he was a church secretary en route to buy land for the church with the donated money and possessed no contraband.

A Washington Post report found that from 2008 to 2014, 81% of cash and property seizures came from incidents in which no indictment was filed.

[rebelmouse-image 19346148 dam="1" original_size="1200x624" caption="via Office of Public Affairs / Flickr " expand=1]via Office of Public Affairs / Flickr

To make it simple: Before the SCOTUS decision, the police could just steal your stuff for no reason whatsoever.

According to the Institute for Justice, in 2015 Treasury and Justice departments deposited more than $5 billion into their respective asset forfeiture funds. The same year, the FBI reports that in-home burglary losses were $3.5 billion.

Law enforcement officials have a perverse incentive to shake down the people they’re sworn to protect. Civil asset forfeiture has become a huge part of funding for law enforcement agencies.

“Increasingly, our justice system has come to rely on fines, fees and forfeitures to fund law enforcement agencies rather than having to answer to elected officials for their budgets,” Scott Bullock, the president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, told ABC News.

“We are grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court established that the U.S. Constitution secures meaningful protections for private property and limits the government’s ability to turn law enforcement into revenue generators," Bullock continued.

The case before the Supreme Court, Timbs v. Indiana, involved the police seizing a $42,000 Land Rover SUV from Tyson Timbs.

In 2015, Timbs sold heroin to an undercover cop and received one year of house arrest and five years of probation. The state also seized his car, which Timbs had purchased with money he received from his father’s life insurance policy.

Timbs challenged the seizure and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The good news is that Timbs is sober and will either get his car back or compensation from the state for a comparable amount.

“Tyson paid his debts to society,” said Timbs’ attorney Wesley Hottot. “He took responsibility for what he did. He paid fees. He is in drug treatment. He is holding down a job. He is staying clean. Our hope and goal now is to get back his vehicle from the police so Tyson will have an easier time getting to all the different commitments he has to stay on the straight and narrow.”

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

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Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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