Of course every city and village in the state of Illinois has a police force. Counties have sheriffs, and there’s even the Illinois State Police. But can a county prosecutor also have a private police force conduct investigations for him? It sounds excessive given the number of law enforcement agencies that are already present in the state, and lower courts have already found that these special enforcement units violate Illinois law. Now, the issue is about to head to the Illinois Supreme Court
A State’s Attorney Sets Up a SAFE Unit
In 2011, the LaSalle County State’s Attorney created the State’s Attorney Felony Enforcement Unit with the specific aim of patrolling I-80 to seize drugs and cash from suspected drug dealers coming in from western states such as California and Arizona.
The SAFE Unit soon made several major busts, five of which have been consolidated in the case People v. Ringland. All of the defendants have filed motions to suppress the evidence obtained against them, and after prevailing at the trial court level, the case was appealed last year.
In addition to arrests initiated by the SAFE Unit, in some cases its investigators only issued warnings. In one instance, the SAFE Unit pulled over a driver for speeding. A drug-sniffing dog indicated the presence of 11 marijuana joints, which were seized along with $50,000 in cash. The driver was not criminally charged, but such seizures accomplished the goals of the SAFE Unit and funded it through the state’s attorney’s office.
While state law allows prosecutors to appoint “special investigators” to serve subpoenas and work toward “conducting investigations that assist the State’s Attorney with his duties,” the appellate court found that a group such as the SAFE Unit was far beyond anything allowed by statute, and in fact made police superfluous. The court held that a special investigator can only assist a prosecutor once police have properly brought the case before the office.
While the SAFE Unit is currently off the roads, the LaSalle County State’s Attorney appealed the case to the Illinois Supreme Court, which is expected to hear it in May of this year. While anything is possible when the case goes before the high court, it is hard to imagine that the Supreme Court will reverse the court of appeals given the unanimous nature of its opinion and its strong rebuke of the LaSalle County State’s Attorney’s Office. If the Supreme Court does indeed side with the defendants, their convictions will be tossed out, and it is doubtful that any other state’s attorneys in Illinois will attempt to create similar SAFE Units.
Contact a Chicago Defense Attorney
Illinois courts take drug and firearm cases seriously. A conviction for one of these crimes can mean years behind bars, so you need an experienced Chicago defense attorney on your side who can recognize when police have violated state law and who will fight to suppress illegally obtained evidence at trial For more information, contact Barney & Hourihane today for a consultation.