See People v. Ringland, 2015 IL App (3d) 130523 (June). Episode 081 (Duration 14:08).
Is State’s Attorney power so broad that they may create their own county police force? This prosecutor was using his investigator as a drug interdiction unit.
The gist of the case involves an elected state’s attorney who was using his investigator as a general police resource.
The prosecutor had hired a retired state trooper to be part of his investigative team.
But this special investigator had a very special job. His main responsibility was to look for narcotic traffickers traveling along the interstate running through the county that hired him. It was a drug interdiction unit!
It was prearranged that a canine unit would automatically be brought to any traffic stop called in by this investigator. Thus, this investigator’s main job was to perform pre-textual traffic stops looking for drugs.
This case does not involve the use of a drug dog. However, click below for podcasts that cover the use of police drug dogs:
- Rodriguez v. United States
- People v. Pulling
- Police Dog Case Law Summary
- Police Dog Sniff of Apartment Door
- Police Dog Discovery
- Update on Police Dog Discovery
- Drug Dog Sniff Set Up Procedure
- Illinois Search & Seizure Resource Page
Issue: State’s Attorney Power
The issue in the case involved whether or not the State’s Attorney had the statutory authority to create his own police force that could lawfully seize citizens for drug investigations?
What Does The Law Say?
Let’s look exactly at what the law says on this issue.
The exact statutory section the prosecutor said he was acting under is found under the Counties Code Act, specifically under 55 ILCS 5/3-9005(b).
This section is conveniently labeled the “Powers and duties of State’s attorney.” Section (b) says:
How Broad is The Law?
Is the above section of the code so broad as to give county investigators the power to conduct drug interdiction investigations which include stopping cars for traffic violations?
Upon an initial reading, it does indeed look like the statute is broad enough to authorize these traffic stops.
It says “special investigators shall be peace officers.”
Seems pretty broad. However, the reviewing court said hold on…
it is important to note that the State’s Attorney has the authority to appoint special investigators to perform only three specific functions: (1) serving subpoenas; (2) making return of process; and (3) conducting investigations that ‘assist the State’s Attorney in the performance of his duties.’ The statute is conspicuously devoid of any other functions a special investigator may undertake.” ¶ 37.
It all comes down to the third power listed above which describes the functions of the State’s Attorney. That section says a State’s Attorney has the power “to conduct investigations that assist the State’s Attorney in the performance of his duties.” 55 ILCS 5/3-9005(b).
The reviewing court was not willing to interpret a prosecutor’s duties so broad to include creating a police force that could gin-up cases for prosecution for the the prosecutor to prosecutor. That is what the legislature decided to allow actual police departments to do.
This is what the court said:
Therefore, in this case, the reviewing court suppressed all the drug evidence that was recovered by this county investigator.
Procedurally, the ruling was that the traffic stops were illegal seizures because the special investigator was acting outside the statutory mandate.
Are Any Investigator Investigations Appropriate?
The last line is not something the court pulled out of the air but it is actually supported by the case law.
There is an ABA standard for Criminal Justice that says a prosecutor’s office has an “affirmative responsibility to investigate suspected illegal activity when it is not adequately dealt with by other agencies.” § 3-3.1(a). See also People v. Nohren, 283 Ill. App. 3d 753, 758 (1996), People v. Williams, 147 Ill. 2d 173, 256 (1991), and People v. Williams, 147 Ill. 2d at 256; see also People v. Wilson, 254 Ill. App. 3d 1020, 1039 (1993).
This means that some county investigations are going to be supported by law, but some are not.
For example, apparently investigations of police officers or departments come up frequently enough in Cook County that the it is the SAO’s office that handles those investigations. Those kinds of cases seem like they would pass this test.
However, giving your investigator a Ford Explorer equipped with emergency equipment and setting him loose to arrest people traveling up down the highway does not pass this test.
I am curious as to what this special investigator looked like. I do wonder if the Ford Explorer had one of those little lights on the roof. What was the investigator wearing? I do wonder.
Additionally, if is not exactly clear how State’s Attorney investigators working as part of a children’s advocacy center jives with this case.
The Children’s Advocacy Center Act, 55 ILCS 80/1 et. seq., says that officials should work collaboratively. However, the act has to have some limits. We wouldn’t interpret that section as giving police officers the power to come into court to perform prosecutor duties.
So the open question is to what extent can county investigators act as police officers in CAC investigations?