www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stor...8604AC10DBBE2CFA862571DB00181616?OpenDocument Illinois officer cleared of machine gun charge By Tim O'Neil ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH 08/31/2006 Charges that an Illinois State Police sergeant illegally possessed a machine gun were dismissed Wednesday by a federal judge, who ruled that the law was "unconstitutionally vague" as applied to him. In federal court in East St. Louis, U.S. District Judge David R. Herndon dropped the charges against Sgt. James V. Vest of O'Fallon, Ill., who was lead rifle instructor for the department's District 11 in the Metro East area. Herndon's 26-page order says the confusion is over the federal law's exception for police officers, and whether Vest could reasonably be expected to know whether he was breaking the law. Vest was one of four people, including two other Illinois state troopers, separately accused in January of illegally possessing machine guns. Such fully automatic weapons are banned by federal law except for certain uses, such as by the military and police agencies, or by people with a special license, which the four did not have. How Herndon's ruling would affect the other cases was unclear Wednesday, partly because the charges against them are not identical. The case against Vest concerned an M-4 machine gun that he bought in 1998 and used in his state police training classes. The charges allege that he lacked authority from the state to buy or possess the weapon. Vest argued that he bought and used it under the "law enforcement exception" in the federal law. Herndon noted that the prosecution never claimed that Vest ever used the M-4 for anything but official purposes. The judge said the government argued that a law enforcement agency, not a single police officer, has the authority to permit possession of a machine gun. But Herndon wrote that the federal law granting that authority was too vague in this instance to support the charges against Vest. Given that Vest apparently used it only for law enforcement purposes, Herndon said, charging him "seems to go against the purpose" of the federal law. If it were anyone of us we'de be doing 10 years, especially in Illinois.