“Clearly, the State’s Attorney’s common-law duty to investigate suspected illegal activity is premised on a deference to law enforcement agencies.” – Illinois State Supreme Court Justice Charles Freeman, June 29, 2017
If law enforcement officials don't have to obey a law, why would anyone else?
Residents of La Salle County were asking that question six years ago when Brian Towne, the state’s attorney, formed the first State’s Attorney Felony Enforcement (SAFE) team to intercept drug traffickers on Interstate 80 and use confiscated assets as an independent funding source for special projects.
Residents of Madison County were soon asking the same question when the state's attorney, Tom Gibbons, decided to follow Towne's lead.
Fortunately for us, a trial court, an appellate court, and now the state Supreme Court have all turned thumbs down on this bad idea.
“We conclude that the State’s Attorney’s common-law duty to investigate suspected illegal activity is limited to circumstances where other law enforcement agencies inadequately deal with such investigation or where a law enforcement agency asks the State’s Attorney for assistance,” Justice Charles Freeman wrote in the majority opinion handed down last month.
Freeman, et al. agreed with the appellate court that the relevant state statute limits investigative authority to persons assisting a State’s Attorney in the performance of specific duties: serving subpoenas, making return of process, and investigating pending cases.
“Thus, to be valid, the instant traffic stops, by themselves, must constitute investigations that assist a State’s Attorney in the performance of his or her duties,” Freeman wrote, noting that the State’s Attorney is not empowered to patrol the highways, engage in law enforcement, and conduct drug interdiction.
Freeman emphasized that “the State’s Attorney’s common-law duty to investigate suspected illegal activity” has significant limitations and presupposes that “a prosecutor ordinarily relies on police and other agencies for investigation of criminal acts.”
Kudos to all three courts for affirming one of the foundational principles of freedom: that the rule of law applies to everyone, no exceptions.