Criminal Justice

Stash-house-sting charges tossed in two cases; in one, the defendants had already pleaded guilty

Stash-house stings are an increasingly used tactic by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A government informant poses as a drug courier who offers his targets an idea to make some money: Rob a drug stash house.

More than 1,000 would-be criminals have been ensnared in such stings, USA Today reported last year. But now some judges are voicing objections, USA Today reports in a new article. They include a Los Angeles federal judge who dismissed the charges even though the defendants had already pleaded guilty and even though their lawyers didn’t seek dismissal.

U.S. District Judge Manuel Real dismissed the charges May 12 (PDF), citing outrageous conduct by the government. He did so after twice delaying sentencing hearings for the men while waiting for prosecutors to explain why the defendants were targeted.

The defendants had pleaded guilty in an alleged conspiracy to rob a stash house (that didn’t exist) of 25 to 30 kilograms of drugs (that didn’t exist). “The government created the fictitious crime from whole cloth,” Real said during the hearing. “The government’s provided no evidence that there have been any stash house robberies in Southern California nor any evidence of the necessity of trolling poor neighborhoods to ensure and ensnare its poor citizens,” he said. Nor had the government provided any evidence that the defendants were involved in prior drug robberies, Real said.

Real also ordered release of the defendants, but that order was temporarily blocked by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Real’s decision follows a March decision by U.S. District Judge Otis Wright that dismissed a similar case, USA Today says. In his order, Wright said that a “reverse-sting operation like this one transcends the bounds of due process and makes the government the oppressor of its people.”

Hat tip to Pat’s Papers.

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