People v. Ringland, 2017 IL 119484 (June). Episode 360 (Duration 13:06)
Prosecutors cannot designated officials with general policing power.
5 defendants were each stopped by Jeffrey Gaither, a special investigator for the La Salle County State’s Attorney.
Each traffic stop occurred on Interstate 80 in La Salle County and resulted in the discovery of a controlled substance.
At issue in this case is the Counties Code section 55 ILCS 5/3-9005(b). Did Gaither have the authority to make these traffic stops?
State’s Attorney Testifies
In the litigation, defendant called the elected SA, Brian Towne, as a witness.
Brian said he created the State’s Attorney’s Felony Enforcement (SAFE) unit specifically to conduct drug interdiction traffic stops on route 80, so he could get his hands on some of that drug money flowing through his county.
Gaither was ex ISP and was hired for this task.
He was paid by La Salle County and was an employee of the State’s Attorney of Lasalle County.
He had a Ford Explorer equipped with lights and a video camera.
The Counties Code
55 ILCS 5/3-9005(b) of the Counties Code provides in relevant part:
“The State’s Attorney of each county shall have authority to appoint one or more special investigators to (1) serve subpoenas, (2) make return of process and (3) conduct investigations which assist the State’s Attorney in the performance of his duties.”
Section 3-9005(b) expressly limits its investigation authorization to those investigations that assist a State’s Attorney in the performance of his or her duties.
Thus, to be valid, the instant traffic stops, must constitute investigations that assist a State’s Attorney in the performance of his or her duties.
Additionally, Section 3-9005(a) prescribes certain powers and duties of the State’s Attorney. These duties of each State’s attorney shall be:
- to commence and prosecute all actions, suits, indictments, and prosecutions, civil and criminal, in the circuit court for his or her county, in which the people of the State or county may be concerned;
- all actions and proceedings brought by any county officer in his or her official capacity;
- to prosecute charges of felony or misdemeanor, for which the offender is required to be recognized to appear before the circuit court (55 ILCS 5/3-9005(a)(6);
- to prosecute all forfeited bonds and recognizances and all actions and proceedings for the recovery of debts, revenues, moneys, fines, penalties, and forfeitures accruing to the State or his or her county or to any school district or road district in the county;
- to prosecute all suits in the county against railroad or transportation companies, which may be prosecuted in the name of the People of the State of Illinois (55 ILCS 5/3-9005(a)(2));
- to defend all actions and proceedings brought against his or her county, or against any county or State officer, in an official capacity, within the county (55 ILCS 5/3-9005(a)(4);
- to attend the examination of all persons brought before any judge on habeas corpus, when the prosecution is in his or her county (55 ILCS 5/3-9005(a)(5);
- to give his or her opinion, without fee or reward, to any county officer in the county, upon any question or law relating to any criminal or other matter, in which the people or the county may be concerned (55 ILCS 5/3-9005(a)(7));
- to assist the Attorney General whenever necessary (55 ILCS 5/3-9005(a)(8);
- to pay, without delay, all moneys received in trust to the officer who by law is entitled to the custody thereof (55 ILCS 5/3-9005(a)(9);
- to notify, by first class mail, complaining witnesses of the ultimate disposition of cases arising from an indictment or an information and to notify various school officials upon the felony conviction of a teacher or educator (55 ILCS 5/3-9005(a)(10), (a)(13));
- to appear in all proceedings by tax collectors against delinquent taxpayers for judgments to sell real estate and see that all the necessary preliminary steps have been legally taken to make the judgment legal and binding (55 ILCS 5/3-9005(a)(12); and
- to perform such other and further duties as may, from time to time, be enjoined on him by law (55 ILCS 5/3-9005(a)(11)).
The fundamental question here is if prosecutor’s duties include criminal litigation as well as general policing duties.
Office of the State’s Attorney
The office of State’s Attorney is constitutionally established.
The State’s Attorney provision contains no reference to the powers and duties of the office. See Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 19; see Ill. Const. 1870, art. VI, §§ 22, 32.
A State’s Attorney is a state, rather than a county, official. The office of State’s Attorney is considered part of the executive branch of government, and State’s Attorneys exercise executive powers.
The State’s Attorney’s powers are analogous to and largely coincident with those of the Attorney General and it follows, therefore, that the legislature may not usurp those constitutionally derived powers.
Any powers the office had before the constitution was written remain in full force and effect and can’t be removed by legislatures.
The enumeration of a State’s Attorney’s duties in section 3-9005 is not meant to be all-inclusive or restrictive, as evinced by subsection (a)(11)’s broad, catchall language.
At the common law courts recognized that the role of a public prosecutor in our legal system has two distinct aspects.
On the one hand, a prosecutor functions as an advocate for the State by evaluating evidence and interviewing witnesses in preparing for the initiation of a prosecution or for judicial proceedings.
On the other hand, a prosecutor may also perform “the investigative functions normally performed by a detective or police officer” by searching for the clues and corroboration that might furnish probable cause to recommend that a suspect be arrested.
To be clear: Illinois case law recognizes that a State’s Attorney has an affirmative duty to investigate the facts and determine whether an offense has been committed.
The state argues that the execution of traffic stops by the SAFE unit assists the State’s Attorney in his or her common-law duty to investigate suspected illegal activity. The state says that neither Section 3-9005(b) nor the common law bars them from contributing its own resources in service of the law enforcement community’s shared duty to maintain the rule of law.
The ABA helps flush this out by saying:
“The bulk of a prosecutor’s work consists of cases in which a complaint has been made by a citizen or by a public agency or cases that develop subsequent to an arrest made by the police. But there are instances in which a citizen is reluctant to prosecute, from ignorance, fear, inertia, or other motive, or in which the police have not taken the initiative. This may be because the area of illegal activity in question is not one that attracts law enforcement interest *** or where law enforcement officials are themselves involved. It is important, therefore, that in some circumstances the prosecutor take the initiative to investigate suspected criminal acts independent of citizen complaints or police activity.”
Dialing It In
But the Illinois court system has previously said that:
“A State’s Attorney’s duty to investigate is not exclusive and necessarily involves him with other investigative agencies. Justice is not served when the State’s Attorney’s duty to investigate collides with the duty of the police to investigate. The State’s Attorney does not possess the technical facilities nor the manpower that the police have. Consequently, it is the recognized practice that the State’s Attorney sensibly defers to the investigative duties of the police. It is also the general practice that the State’s Attorney stands ready to provide assistance to the police.”
Professor LaFave has written that:
“Although the police and prosecutor share a common goal in the effective enforcement of the criminal law, they come at that goal with differences that create a real potential for conflict. They approach the task of enforcement from the outlooks of different professional backgrounds, while performing different roles and viewing the offense, the offender and the victim from different vantage points.”
Deference To Law Enforcement
Clearly, the State’s Attorney’s common-law duty to investigate suspected illegal activity is premised on a deference to law enforcement agencies.
Write this down:
The Illinois Supreme Court said that a State’s Attorney has an affirmative duty to investigate suspected illegal activity “when it is not adequately dealt with by other agencies.”
The Illinois Supreme Court jumped on this band wagon and said 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 (see Williams, 147 Ill. 2d at 256) or where a law enforcement agency asks the State’s Attorney for assistance.
In this case, the record was quite clear that SAFE investigators independently initiated the instant traffic stops without cooperation with or input from other law enforcement agencies.
A majority of judges had no problem finding that based on Towne’s exhortation to “go out and enforce the law,” the SAFE unit essentially operated as a county police force at the direction of Towne, generating its own cases.
The legislature could not have intended such a far-reaching result.
The court noted that ruling the other way would potentially allow the formation of 102 additional police forces statewide, each directed by a State’s Attorney, rendering superfluous the three statutory functions of State’s Attorney special investigators.
The high court held 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.
Absent this duty, the conduct of the SAFE unit fell outside of the scope of section 3-9005(b).
See chief justice Garman’s strong dissent.
Particularly, the dissent stressed that the common law and commentary in the record demonstrated that prosecutors typically cooperate with law enforcement agencies for the purpose of investigation and that the State’s Attorney has a duty to take action when such agencies fail. It says nothing about the State’s Attorney’s duties in other situations, and certainly doesn’t prohibit a more general view of their power authority.