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Supreme Court dismisses challenge to Illinois forfeiture law

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Alvarez v. Smith involved six individuals who filed lawsuits challenging Illinois' Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedures Act (DAFPA). Three claims sought return of seized cash, three others involved cars.

By the time the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case most of the cars and cash had already been returned or the cases were otherwise settled.

Chevy Impala held for three years

The last car was returned in July, three months before oral argument. It had been held in a police impoundment lot for three years. The Chevy Impala was only two years old when seized by police. It was five years old when returned to the owner.

Although the justices heard arguments on the merits of the case, they also asked the lawyers why the case shouldn't be dismissed as moot since all the property had been returned.

The justices voted unanimously to dismiss the case as moot. Justice John Paul Stevens issued a lone dissent to the additional decision to vacate the Seventh Circuit ruling.

"I would apply the general rule against vacating appellate judgments that have become moot because the parties settled," he wrote.

Peters said he would start the case over. He said he filed his first challenge to the Illinois forfeiture law 15 years ago and that another year wouldn't stop it. "Nothing has changed with regard to the merits, the due process issue," he said.

The lawyer said he anticipates losing at District Court level but winning again at the Seventh Circuit. Next it would be up to the State's Attorney whether to appeal, again, to the US Supreme Court.

Peters wasn't the only lawyer disappointed by the Supreme Court's action. Thomas O'Brien of the Legal Aid Society in New York City filed a friend of the court brief and was following the case closely.

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