Undercover agents crossed the line by enlisting people in "made-up crime" just so they could bust eager volunteers in drug stings, an angry federal judge has ruled — dismissing charges against a suspect snared in one such operation.
U.S. District Judge Otis Wright, of the Central District of California, blasted the "outrageous government conduct"
of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents in a blistering 24-page order dated March 10.
The case was reported Tuesday by USA Today
"Society does not win when the government stoops to the same level as the defendants it seeks to prosecute — especially when the government has acted solely to achieve a conviction for a made-up crime," Wright wrote, noting that the tactics haven't brought down the crime rate and are "ensnaring chronically unemployed individuals from poverty-ridden areas."
The sting at the center of the case is one in which agents promised people big money if they robbed a fictional drug stash house.
USA Today reported that the federal agency has quadrupled the use of such operations aimed at snatching violent criminals over the last decade. But the newspaper cited its own 2013 investigation
showing the ploy usually nets only small-time crooks looking for easy work and hard cash.
"Zero. That's the amount of drugs that the government has taken off the streets as the result of this case and the hundreds of other fake stash-house cases around the country," Wright wrote. "That's the problem with creating crime: the government is not making the country any safer or reducing the actual flow of drugs."
As a result of Wright's ruling, federal officials were ordered to release Antuan Dunlap, who was arrested during an ATF sting in Los Angeles last year.
Wright said agents had no evidence he was involved in drug-house robberies — or that he would have been in one had not an undercover agent offered him a shot at stealing up to 25 kilograms of non-existent cocaine.
"The time has come to remind the executive branch that the Constitution charges it with law enforcement — not crime creation. A reverse-sting operation like this one transcends the bounds of due process and makes the government the oppressor of its people," Wright wrote.
Wright was nominated to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2007, the newspaper noted.
Prosecutors filed notice Monday that they would appeal the decision, USA Today reported.
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