Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

In criminal justice, fines are monetary penalties imposed on offenders. Used primarily for less severe crimes or offenses, fines serve as a punishment and deterrent, reinforcing the negative consequences of breaking the law. This section will delve into the application of fines in criminal cases and examine key Supreme Court decisions that have shaped how fines are administered in the justice system.

The Role and Application of Fines

Fines are a common form of punishment for minor offenses such as traffic violations, petty theft, or minor drug offenses. They are set according to the severity of the crime and the offender’s financial situation. For some offenses, the law prescribes a range within which the fine must fall. This range is typically broad, allowing the court to consider the specific circumstances of each case. The offender’s ability to pay is also a crucial factor in determining the final amount. It ensures that the punishment is proportional and does not result in undue hardship.

Significant Supreme Court Cases

United States v. Bajakajian (1998)

United States v. Bajakajian (1998) was a landmark case that addressed the issue of excessive fines. In this case, Bajakajian attempted to leave the United States with more money than permitted without declaring it. The government sought forfeiture of the entire amount, as mandated by law. The primary constitutional issue was whether the forfeiture constituted an excessive fine under the Eighth Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled that the forfeiture was grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Bajakajian’s offense, making it an unconstitutionally excessive fine.

Timbs v. Indiana (2019)

Timbs v. Indiana (2019) considered whether the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of excessive fines applies to state and local governments. Timbs was convicted of drug offenses, and the state of Indiana seized his vehicle, worth significantly more than the maximum fine for his crimes. The Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is an incorporated protection applicable to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.


Fines play a crucial role in the criminal justice system as a common form of punishment for minor offenses. The amount is typically determined by considering the crime’s severity and the offender’s ability to pay. Notable Supreme Court cases, such as United States v. Bajakajian (1998) and Timbs v. Indiana (2019), have influenced how they are administered and emphasized the importance of proportionality and fairness in their application.


  • United States v. Bajakajian, 524 U.S. 321 (1998).
  • Timbs v. Indiana, 586 U.S. ___, 139 S. Ct. 682 (2019).


Modification History

File Created:  08/08/2018

Last Modified:  07/27/2023

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

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