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Supreme Court dismisses challenge to Illinois forfeiture law

The Supreme Court dismissed a case pitting innocent property owners against Chicago police and prosecutors who held seized autos and other property for years under a controversial Illinois forfeiture act.

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The US Supreme Court on Tuesday handed a victory to the Cook County State's Attorney and the Chicago Police Department when the justices unanimously dismissed as moot a challenge to Illinois' controversial forfeiture law.

The high court, in an 8-to-1 ruling, also ordered a federal appeals court decision in the case vacated.

The action came nearly two months after the high court heard oral argument in Alvarez v. Smith, a case that pitted innocent property owners against Chicago police and prosecutors who claimed a statutory right to take their time before returning cars and cash seized in criminal investigations.

Lawyers for the property owners argued that their clients had a due process right not to have to wait months or years for the government to return their property.

A panel of the Seventh US Circuit Court of Appeals had agreed with the innocent property owners and ordered implementation of a faster review process. It was that May 2008 Seventh Circuit ruling that the high court vacated on Tuesday.

More challenges to come

Thomas Peters, the Chicago-based lawyer for the property owners, said he was disappointed by the Supreme Court dismissal, but that he would continue to litigate the issue with a new group of plaintiffs.

"We are not going to go away," he said. "The system is very unfair and needs to be changed."

When Chicago police seize a car or other property the seizure works as a de facto forfeiture, Mr. Peters says. "Most people just give up. They don't have their car and they can't make their car payments, so they just give up."

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