(CN) - The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed as moot a case brought by six Illinois residents who said Chicago police seized their cars and cash without warrants and kept the property in violation of due process. The state has already returned the property.
The property disputes have been resolved, and what remains is an "abstract dispute about the law," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote. He said the dispute over Illinois' hearing procedures is no longer embedded in an actual controversy over legal rights.
By the time the case got to the Supreme Court in February 2009, Illinois had already returned the cars, and the cash has either been returned or the plaintiffs agreed to a partial return.
The Supreme Court vacated the 7th Circuit judgment finding that state procedures violated due process. The six property cases were "apparently terminated on substantive grounds in their ordinary course," Breyer wrote.
Vacating the lower court judgment "clears the path for future relitigation of the issues between the parties," the ruling states.
"[T]he only disputes relevant here are those between these six plaintiffs and the state's attorney; those disputes concerned cars and cash; and those disputes are now over," Breyer wrote.
Under Illinois law, the state has 142 days to launch judicial forfeiture proceedings after seizing drug-related property without a warrant, during which time the state can hold onto the property. Those who lost property in the raid claimed their due process rights were violated when Illinois didn't provide them with a speedy post-seizure hearing.
But these circumstances are not capable of repetition while evading review, the court ruled, as there is nothing to suggest that the plaintiffs' property will be seized again.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to the 7th Circuit with instructions to dismiss.
Dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens agreed that case was moot, but said the delayed post-seizure hearing violates due process. He added that the Supreme Court should have turned down the case in the first place, as five of the six property disputes were resolved before the case even came before the court.
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