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ATF investigations push the limit of good police practice, P.1

According to a recent analysis by USA Today, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (AFT), the agency charged with enforcing national gun laws, has incarcerated over 1,000 individuals by setting them up drawing them into a fake plot to rob drug stash houses that did not actually exist. While the strategy has come to be an important part of the ATF’s approach to criminal investigation, it is a good example of dubious policing efforts.


The ATF’s sting operations are, in fact, dubious enough that some prosecutors have disapproved of them. Part of the problem is that they push the limits of entrapment—an affirmative defense in criminal law used in cases where law enforcement induced an individual to commit an offense he or she would have been unlikely to commit otherwise.

Since 2003, the ATF has increased its use drug house sting operations by over four times the frequency of use back in 2003, and officials have voiced the intention to up such stings even more.

It cannot be denied, of course, that dangerous individuals are arrested by means of drug house operations. On the other hand, not all the ATF’s arrests in these cases seem to fit the cost and danger of drop house operations.

While it is understandable that the government would want to increase efforts to prevent criminal activity, it is important that criminal investigations be conducted legally and with good stewardship of federal dollars.
In our next post, we’ll continue with this story, looking at the notion of “good law enforcement” and what criminal defendants need to know about protecting themselves from dubious police practices.

Source: USA Today, “ATF uses fake drugs, big bucks to snare suspects,” Brad Heath, June 28, 2013. 

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