Kerry Bryson reviews People v. Ringland, handed down Thursday, June 29.
By Kerry Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender
In these consolidated cases, the defendants were subjected to traffic stops on I-80 in LaSalle County, with each stop resulting in the discovery of a controlled substance. Those stops were initiated by a team of special investigators appointed by then LaSalle County State’s Attorney Brian Towne pursuant to Section 3-9005(b) of the Counties Code allowing State’s Attorneys to appoint special investigators. Towne named the team the State’s Attorney’s Felony Enforcement unit (or SAFE). The specific purpose of SAFE was to act as a drug interdiction team on I-80.
The defendants filed motions to suppress, challenging the investigators’ authority to conduct traffic stops, as well as the adequacy of the procedure by which they were appointed. The circuit court granted the motions on the basis that statutory procedural requirements for appointment of special investigators had not been met. The appellate court affirmed but on the basis that the investigators lacked authority under Section 3-9005 (b) to conduct the traffic stops in question. The Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court.
Section 3-9005(b) provides that the state’s attorney has the authority to appoint 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 or her duties. The supreme court agreed with the appellate court’s observation that this is an exclusive list.