Federal Judge Blasts ATF Stings, Dismisses Charges

In a very powerful opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright has dismissed the charges against three defendants in an ATF reverse sting case, finding the sting constituted outrageous government conduct.

The opinion is here.

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.” ...In this case, the Constitution will not tolerate subjecting an individual to prosecution for an imaginary crime subject to a very real punishment — a punishment which rests entirely on ATF agents’ whims. Since it is the Court’s sworn duty to uphold the Constitution, the Court GRANTS Dunlap’s Motion to Dismiss the Indictment.


On the role of the judiciary:

it is not the role of the Judicial Branch to merely rubberstamp whatever imaginative device the ATF and other agencies dream up. Rather, it is the duty of the courts “to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void.

The Judge says society should question the value of these stings, in light of the costs.

As of the date of this Order, there are 215,566 inmates in federal detention. Statistics, Federal Bureau of Prisons, http://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/population_ statistics.jsp (last visited Mar. 10, 2014). According to the Bureau of Prisons, the average cost to incarcerate a federal inmate in 2011 was $28,893.40. Annual Determination of Average Cost of Incarceration, 78 Fed. Reg. 16711, 16711 (Mar. 18, 2013). In fictitious stash-house cases, the ATF usually seeks a 15-year sentence.... These fake robberies therefore cost federal taxpayers approximately $433,401 per defendant in incarceration costs alone—not to mention investigative, prosecutorial, defense, and judicial resources.

...Society must question whether the astronomical cost associated with prosecuting fake crime is worth it.

...“Today, we imprison more of our people than any other country in the world. . . . Either our fellow Americans are far more dangerous than the citizens of any other country, or something is seriously out of whack in the criminal-justice system.” Hon. Michael A. Ponsor, The Prisoners I Lose Sleep Over, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 12, 2014. When the nation imprisons people solely because the Government dreams up a too-good-to-turn-down robbery and then targets people it knows are eager to make an easy buck, Judge Ponsor’s concerns are only further borne out.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Wow. A federal judge willing (5.00 / 7) (#1)
    by Peter G on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 03:42:58 PM EST
    not only to speak the truth but also to act upon it. ATF has been running these "stash house robbery" stings around the country, following the same exact script, for several years.  The Federal Public Defenders have been trying to push back.  About time a judge agreed with them.

    Smart judge (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by Zorba on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 03:45:01 PM EST
    I wish more judges would do the same thing.
    These types of sting operations have always driven me crazy.
    "Let's arrest and try a guy for committing a crime that he wouldn't have committed if not for our sting."  Oh, and, BTW, it wasn't a crime anyway, because it was a "non-existent drug stash house."

    A "G Dub" nomination, fwiw. (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 03:49:49 PM EST

    Thanks for checking on that (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Peter G on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 05:06:17 PM EST
    As one who clerked, long ago, for a Nixon appointee who turned out to be a prince among judges in every way, I have always been skeptical, at best, of stereotyping jurists based on political party or Presidential appointment.  A poor indicator, at best, of future rulings. Judge Wright, I see, is a Vietnam-era Marine veteran and a former deputy sheriff, who was initially appointed to the state-court bench in California by the Governator.

    I don't know the correct legal term, "sue" the gvt for damages?

    Almost certainly not (none / 0) (#10)
    by Peter G on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 07:26:18 PM EST
    And since these stings target (suspected) violent drug dealers, I would think the last thing nearly any of the targets would want, after dodging this bullet, would be to file something in court that would expose them to having to answer interrogatories or submit to a deposition, as would be the case in civil litigation. Or have to take the Fifth, which would probably result in a dismissal of any suit anyway.

    Claro, thanks. (none / 0) (#13)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 09:11:28 AM EST
    Wasn't it a bunch of Republican appointees (none / 0) (#15)
    by Mr Natural on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 11:12:03 AM EST
    who issued the decision that resulted in Tricky Dick Nixon being run out of town?

    I could kiss... (5.00 / 3) (#14)
    by kdog on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 09:15:20 AM EST
    the bastard right now...appointment of the millenium so far!

    Wow, it's about dang time (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by ruffian on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 10:03:57 PM EST

    Here's the incredulous money shot: (none / 0) (#4)
    by Chuck0 on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 04:03:27 PM EST
    "Prosecutors filed a notice Monday that they intend to appeal, a step that will require approval from Justice Department officials in Washington."

    The judge beats them up and condemns their douchery, yet they want to try again.

    They have to (5.00 / 4) (#5)
    by sj on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 04:13:17 PM EST
    ...yet they want to try again.

    There are pending and pre-existing cases for more of this same cr@p. There is no way that the feds want the practice to be invalidated.

    Easy and more convictions equals bigger budgets. How else are they going to fund the excessive "mob control" gear around the country?

    ATF needs to be dissolved, right after DHS.


    And don't forget (5.00 / 4) (#6)
    by Zorba on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 04:18:47 PM EST
    The DEA..........

    Yep (5.00 / 3) (#7)
    by sj on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 05:02:50 PM EST
    You're right. I hadn't forgotten it, exactly, but once I started thinking about Things That Need Dismantling that led to the NSA and before you know it, I'm sounding like the GOP except they want to dismantle the Department of Education, NEA, OSHA and EPA.

    Are you sure (none / 0) (#12)
    by Mikado Cat on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 08:44:46 AM EST
    you want to turn ATF agents loose on society, better to keep them as a group and remove the storm trooper authority they act under.

    What "authority" is THAT? (3.50 / 2) (#17)
    by Yman on Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 07:44:19 AM EST
    better to keep them as a group and remove the storm trooper authority they act under

    The ATF is no different than any other law enforcement agency, other than the fact that they get attacked by some who don't like their (legitimate) mission.  Like any law enforcement agency, they need to be kept in check to make sure they don't exceed or abuse their authority, but the analogies to "storm troopers" is ridiculous.


    You're right. Storm troopers (none / 0) (#18)
    by Mr Natural on Sat Mar 22, 2014 at 11:08:41 AM EST
    wore shinier boots.

    No matter what your issues ... (none / 0) (#19)
    by Yman on Sat Mar 22, 2014 at 07:06:59 PM EST
    ... with law enforcement, the comparison is ridiculous.

    So, you're an authority on authoritarianism? (none / 0) (#20)
    by Mr Natural on Sat Mar 22, 2014 at 09:16:38 PM EST
    Sorry, Charlie; I've got better sources.

    Juan Cole is better? (none / 0) (#21)
    by Yman on Sat Mar 22, 2014 at 10:19:27 PM EST
    Maybe in your mind, but even Cole isn't making ridiculous "stormtrooper" claims.

    No (none / 0) (#16)
    by sj on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 03:16:11 PM EST
    I'm not.
    Are you sure (none / 0) (#12)
    by Mikado Cat on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 07:44:46 AM MDT

    you want to turn ATF agents loose on society

    What I am sure of is that I don't want ATF agents, period. Those who start out as sociopaths will remain so. And look at all the others that could be saved from a life of utter disregard for a civil society.