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State's Attorney Drug Interdiction Units Declared Unconstitutional by Illinois Supreme Court

County prosecutors can't form own police units to find drugs, Supreme Court rules

From the Elizabeth Donald's article in Belleville News-Democrat

"A ruling issued Thursday by the Illinois Supreme Court puts a permanent quash on the Madison County state’s attorney’s drug-interdiction unit, which never fully launched after court challenges questioned the constitutionality of such units.

The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed a lower courts’ ruling 5-2 Thursday morning in a case centered on the SAFE Unit created by the La Salle County state’s attorney to conduct drug interdiction efforts, including traffic stops.

The State’s Attorney Felony Enforcement (SAFE) unit operated for five years in La Salle County, primarily stopping and searching cars on their way to or from Chicago. The unit was comprised of investigators from the prosecutor’s office who previously handled tasks such as witness transportation, retrieving defendants from other jurisdictions, serving subpoenas and otherwise assisting in investigations. They were granted similar powers to police officers in 2012 by state law...

In total, La Salle’s SAFE Unit was responsible for 77 arrests, including a reported member of al-Qaeda member and a Seattle-based murderer, according to news reports from the La Salle NewsTribune.

In the meantime, Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons saw the progress La Salle was making and began creating a SAFE Unit of his own, expanding his two-person special investigator unit with two additional officers and began training, funded by $125,000 in drug forfeiture funds...

...In its decision issued Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed, with two judges dissenting. The court held that while a state’s attorney may perform the investigative functions normally performed by police officers and has a duty to determine whether an offense has been committed, it is supposed to be in assistance to the police, not supplanting them.

'We hold that the State’s Attorney’s common-law duty to investigate suspected illegal activity did not apply to Towne because he made no showing that law enforcement agencies inadequately dealt with such investigation or that any law enforcement agency asked him for assistance,' the opinion read...

...No arrests were made or cases prosecuted involving Madison County’s SAFE Unit and all funds used were drug asset forfeiture funds, so the financial impact is estimated to be minimal. However, La Salle County had confiscated more than $8 million in drugs, cash and valuables as well as its 77 arrests, which could be subject to expensive litigation following the ruling. Towne lost his re-election bid in 2016."

Click here to read the full article on Belleville News-Democrat website.

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