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Criminal Defense Blog


Federal judge calls into question ATF sting operations

Our regular readers will remember that we wrote, last month, a set of posts on investigation tactics used by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). As we pointed out in those posts, the agency has been criticized for its use of sting setups, in which suspects are drawn into agreements to rob drug stash houses that, unknown to them, do not exist. The fact that the crimes are fictional and that the agency relies on confidential informants has been called into question before.

Just last week, a federal judge handling a drug case in U.S. District Court in Chicago, pointed out a “strong showing of potential bias” in cases handled by the ATF in recent years. In fact, since 2011, 19 African Americans and seven Latinos have been charged in ATF drug stings in the Chicago area, while now whites have been charged.

The case at issue involves five men accused of conspiring to rob a stash house after an undercover agent informed them about the location. As a result, they were all charged with attempted robbery and conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute. The latter charge carries a potential sentence of 10 years at a minimum, and life at maximum.
The judge has reportedly ordered the government to reveal the name and race of every defendant in ATF drug sting cases brought in the Chicago area since 2006.

In criminal cases, it is important for defense attorneys to raise any issue that could potentially benefit their client’s case. The way in which incriminating evidence is gathered is not an uncommon ground on which to focus a criminal case. Doing so can sometimes raise an affirmative defense or lead to the suppression of evidence, which can greatly weakens the prosecution’s case.

Source: ABC News, “Federal Judge” Stings May Racially Profile Targets,” Michael Tarm, August 1, 2013.

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