Most people know about the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.” But did you know that the Eighth Amendment also prohibits the imposition of “excessive fines”? The excessive fines clause is an odd little clause that comes up fairly rarely. The Supreme Court, in a 1998 case called United States v. Bajakajian held that the clause prohibits the government from imposing fines that are “grossly disproportionate” to whatever crime the defendant has committed.
A few years ago Palm Beach Commissioner Tony Masilotti pleaded guilty to honest services fraud on the basis of some real estate deals and forfeited a good deal of valuable land. Last year the Supreme Court clarified that the crime of honest services fraud must include bribes or kickbacks. According to this story, Masilotti now claims that because some of the deals that formed the basis for his plea did not involve bribes or kickbacks, the value of the land he forfeited turns out to be excessive in relation to the crimes he actually committed. He says that the forfeiture violates his rights under the Excessive Fines clause. Actually, according to Masilotti’s lawyer’s inartful phrasing, the forfeiture is “clearly excessive and cruel and unusual punishment under the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment.” Further, the lawyer pointed out: “We want back everything . . . We’re looking for the whole ball of wax.”
What the hell does that mean, “the whole ball of wax”? Who wants a big ball of wax anyway? I think the judge should refuse to give Masilotti back any of his land but should give him an actual gigantic ball of wax.