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Supreme Court dismisses Illinois property seizure case as moot

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] in Alvarez v. Smith [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a challenge to an Illinois statute authorizing forfeiture of personal property used to facilitate drug crimes is moot because the parties resolved underlying disputes as to ownership of the property. The Court vacated the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which had held [opinion, PDF] that some hearing was due, but had remanded the case to the district court in order to determine the applicable test. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the Court:

We granted certiorari in this case to determine whether Illinois law provides a sufficiently speedy opportunity for an individual, whose car or cash police have seized without a warrant, to contest the lawfulness of the seizure. At the time of oral argument, however, we learned that the underlying property disputes have all ended. The State has returned all the cars that it seized, and the individual property owners have either forfeited any relevant cash or have accepted as final the State's return of some of it. We consequently find the case moot, and we therefore vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to that court with instructions to dismiss.

Justice John Paul Stevens concurred in part and dissented in part. Stevens agreed that the case was moot but would not have vacated the lower court's judgment.

The case arose when six plaintiffs whose property was seized without a warrant brought suit against Cook County, Illinois, arguing that the Illinois statute allowing warrantless property seizure is unconstitutional. The Court originally granted certiorari to decide whether the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment [text] requires state and local governments to allow probable cause challenges to property seizures, and if so, what the requirements for those hearings should be.

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