Aggressive litigation by federal defense attorneys concerning over-zealous federal drug-war strategies resulted in federal prosecutors in the Northern District of Illinois, specifically Chicago, dismissing federal conspiracy charges these tactics have generated. The article in the Chicago Tribune on January 29, 2015, written by reporters Annie Sweeney and Jason Meisner, is entitled “Chicago Prosecutors Quietly Drop Charges Tied to Drug Stash House Stings.”
The lengthy article states that federal prosecutors in Chicago have dismissed conspiracy drug charges against more than two dozen defendants accused of ripping off drug stash houses as part of controversial undercover stings that have sparked allegations across the country of entrapment and racial profiling.
The strategy that has been used for more than ten years is also under fire because federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearm and Explosive agents, as part of a ruse, led targeted defendants to believe large amounts of cocaine were often stashed in the stash houses. When a defendant would participate in the sting, it all but ensured an extremely long federal prison sentence under federal sentencing guidelines if convicted. The Tribune article said experts say this is the first step back by a U.S. attorney’s office anywhere in the country in connection with the controversial law enforcement tactic.
The decision to dismiss more than two dozen serious drug conspiracy cases come two months after U.S.v. Mayfield, wherein the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a harsh rebuke to the policy, ordering a new trial for a Mr. Mayfield who alleged he was goaded into conspiring to rob a phony drug stash house by overzealous federal agents.
The Seventh Circuit, in summarizing the law of entrapment, stated:
Entrapment is a defense to criminal liability when the defendant was not predisposed to commit the charged crime before the intervention of the government’s agents and the government’s conduct induced him to commit it. The two elements of the defense-lack of predisposition and government inducement-are conceptually related but formally and temporally distinct.
The predisposition element focuses on the defendant’s circumstances before and at the time the government first approached him with a proposal to commit the crime. A defendant is predisposed to commit the charged crime if he was ready and willing to do so and likely would have committed it without the government’s intervention, or actively wanted to but hadn’t yet found the means.
As for the inducement element, the fact that the government initiated contact with the defendant, suggested the crime, or created the ordinary opportunity to commit it is not sufficient; something more is required, either in terms of the character and degree of the government’s persistence or persuasion, the nature of the enticement or reward, or some combination of these. Conduct by the government’s agents amounts to inducement if, considering its character and the factual context, it creates a risk that a person who otherwise would not commit the crime if left alone will do so in response to the government’s persuasion.
The Mayfield court reversed Mr. Mayfield’s conviction and sent it back for a new trial after he was denied the right to present an entrapment defense.
These types of stings have been highly criticized for targeting mostly minority suspects, many of whom were drawn into the sham rip-offs by informants who were promised financial rewards to repeatedly request defendants participate in the rip-offs.
The cases are built on a complex hoax invented by the ATF. Everything about the stash house is fictitious and follows a common scheme, from supposedly using armed guards that need to be dealt with to the quantity of drugs purportedly stashed there. By pretending the house contains a large amount of narcotics, authorities can vastly escalate the potential prison time defendants’ face, including up to life sentences.