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Appeals Court Judge Tears Into ATF's Life-Wrecking, Discriminatory Stash House Stings

from the more-of-this-please dept

The ATF's stash house stings are one of the worst things about federal law enforcement. And it's a crowded field! Sure, the FBI routinely engages in something approaching entrapment when it turns people with self-esteem problems and/or serious mental health issues into terrorists. But the FBI can't tell a judge how much terrorism to charge defendants with. The ATF stings -- involving imaginary drugs hidden in fictitious stash houses -- give the government the ability to trigger mandatory minimum sentences simply by claiming the fake stash of drugs was more than five kilos -- automatically setting up defendants for 20-year prison terms.

Another victim of the ATF's stash house stings is fighting his conviction in court. Daryle Lamont Sellers hopes to prove the ATF's stash house stings are racially-biased. There's some evidence this is the case. Researchers found sting operations in Chicago netted a disproportionate number of minority suspects. A review of hundreds of court cases by the USA Today showed the ATF targeted minorities 91% of the time.

Sellers says the ATF is engaging in selective enforcement. To do that, he needs information the ATF has on hand, but is refusing to hand over. The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court has declared Sellers should have access to this information because the claim he's making isn't the same as selective prosecution, which requires Sellers to show more than he has in this case. From the decision [PDF]:

To succeed on his selective enforcement claim, Sellers must show that the enforcement had a discriminatory effect and was motivated by a discriminatory purpose. He is unlikely to meet this demanding standard without information that only the government has. Sellers can obtain this information through discovery if he makes a threshold showing. We must decide what that showing is. We hold that in these stash house reverse-sting cases, claims of selective enforcement are governed by a less rigorous standard than that applied to claims of selective prosecution under United States v. Armstrong, 517 U.S. 456 (1996).

This is good news for Sellers. And it's potentially good news for others roped in by ATF stings. If he obtains information showing discriminatory motivation, minority suspects are going to have another way to fight these charges in court.

But the entire opinion is worth reading past the opening declaration in favor of Sellers. Judge Jacqueline Nguyen tees off on the ATF in her concurring opinion, pointing out biased enforcement is only a small part of stash house sting operations' problems.

While these operations do “not . . . reduc[e] the actual flow of drugs,”2 the government touts them as an important tool “to catch people inclined to commit home invasions.” United States v. Hudson, 3 F. Supp. 3d 772, 786 (C.D. Cal. 2014), rev’d sub nom. United States v. Dunlap, 593 F. App’x 619 (9th Cir. 2014). But when the government fails to target known criminal enterprises or people suspected of engaging in serious crimes, the practice is highly questionable and raises troubling questions about race-based targeting.

There is no legitimate dispute that these stings primarily affect people of color, but the government has steadfastly resisted any defense attempt to determine whether enforcement is racially biased.

She goes on to point out the government outsources the target selection to informants -- ones who have their own interests to serve and protect. This makes it clear the ATF is searching for dangerous criminals to talk into fake stash house robberies. It's more than willing to take whoever -- which more often than not is a minority with no history of violent crime or armed robbery. From there, the government gets to decide how many years of a suspect's life it's willing to try to take away. Invariably, every fake drug stash is large enough to demand 20-year minimum sentences.

Then she gets right to the heart of the matter: of course the ATF's sting operations are racially-biased. They're based on a bunch of lies, which gives the ATF the opportunity to pick anyone as its fall guy. But the agency always seems to end up arresting the same sort of people.

Law enforcement agents, on the other hand, do not deal with a closed universe of criminal suspects. When conducting a reverse sting, literally anyone could be a target. See Black, 733 F.3d at 315 (Noonan, J., dissenting) (“In the population of this country, there is an indefinite number of persons who dream of clever and unlawful schemes to make money. Does their dreamy amorality cast them all as fit candidates for a sting by their government?”). There is no reason to suspect that persons of a particular race are more likely to agree to commit a stash house robbery unless one believes that persons of that race are inherently more prone to committing violent crime for profit—a dangerously racist view that has no place in the law. If law enforcement agents target potential stash house robbers in a race-neutral way, then the racial breakdown of targeted individuals would presumably closely mirror that in the community. If it doesn’t, then that’s potentially indicative that the agents or their informants are using discriminatory procedures.

This is what the ATF does dozens of times a year. It takes fake drugs and fake stash houses and turns them into real prison sentences. And, so far, it's been getting away with it. But it sounds like courts are beginning to tire of locking people up for unwittingly engaging in the ATF's charades. At some point, this will all come crashing down on the feds, but until then dangerous criminals will continue to walk the streets while down-on-their-luck nobodies serve their prison terms for them.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2018 @ 4:17pm

    Bullshit

    Until the ATF is disbanded and the people in charge are serving jail time for their racist tactics, I am not going to believe anyone from there on anything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2018 @ 4:46pm

      Re: Bull$hit

      @@@ "Until the ATF is disbanded..."



      yeah, since the courts fully endorse the existence, legality, and mission of ATF -- all else the courts do in adjudicating ATF actions is just a charade.

      There is no Constitutional authority for ATF to exist at all. Thus it is an outlaw organization.


      (oh right, i forgot about the Commerce Clause & General Welfare Clause ... which permit the Feds to do whatever they want; but then why even bother a written detailed constitution-- just give the Feds plenary authority to do as they choose)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 26 Oct 2018 @ 4:20pm

    Well, here is the problem:

    If you have one population group where 4% are likely to commit a crime, and one population group where 6% are likely to commit a crime, in the interest of most effective policing, in which ratio should you check (traffic stops, stash house entrapments, well you shouldn't but you get the drift) those population groups?

    The most effective way of policing (in terms of finding perpetrators) is to check the second group 100% of the time. At least, until not getting checked at all increases the crime rate among the unchecked group to match that of the checked group.

    That is, of course, the ultimate in racial profiling. If you want other strategies to be optimal (and make no mistake: prohibited or not enforcement will gravitate towards what is optimal for them), you need a metric different from "net the most culprits". The situation is actually even worse since the metric is actually "net the most convictions" and for that it is quite more important that the target does not have the means to raise a competent defense and thus has to take whatever plea deal they get.

    You can easily get 10 convictions for innocent poor with the same effort you need for getting one conviction for a guilty rich person.

    When the metrics are broken, getting law enforcement to do the right thing against their own interests is an uphill battle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 26 Oct 2018 @ 4:27pm

      Re: Well, here is the problem:

      Isn't the point of law enforcement to catch and prosecute people who actually commit crimes? Not someone thinking about commiting crimes, but those who actually commit crimes. Now there could be some exceptions where the police stumble upon and actualy crime in the planning stages, but I would think they would set up and catch the criminals in the act in those instances.

      When the entire enterprise is made up, what crime was actually commited?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2018 @ 5:08pm

        Re: Re: Well, here is the problem:

        Yes, the point is law enforcement. However, the metrics for how well they enforced the law are easily gamed, because they are measured not on actual crimes solved/prevented, but on number of successful convictions. It is hardly surprising that law enforcement would seek to optimize their number of convictions. It is very bad that unscrupulous members of law enforcement chose to optimize that number through inventing crimes rather than through prioritizing resolution of real crimes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2018 @ 6:54pm

        Re: Re: Well, here is the problem:

        Under that logic, we shouldn't arrest pedophiles for hitting on 50 year-old male cops.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Coyne Tibbets (profile), 26 Oct 2018 @ 9:14pm

      Re: Well, here is the problem:

      If you have one population group where 4% are likely to commit a crime, and one population group where 6% are likely to commit a crime, [...] check the second group 100% of the time.

      Okay, that's a point.

      But what if the first group was 6% and the second 4% (i.e. more like reality). Would you still check the second group more? Even if you've fished out the second, smaller, fishing hole: would you stubbornly keep fishing there rather than move on to the first hole?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Agammamon, 26 Oct 2018 @ 11:46pm

      Re: Well, here is the problem:

      What if, in that 6% group, 50% of them were more likely to be arrested for doing things that shouldn't be crimes in the first place and don't hurt other people?

      How does that affect efficient distribution of police?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2018 @ 7:00am

      Re: Well, here is the problem:

      "If you have one population group where 4% are likely to commit a crime, and one population group where 6% are likely to commit a crime ..... The most effective way of policing is to check the second group 100% of the time."

      This is obviously incorrect.

      Statistically, one can not support your claim. What does "more likely" even mean in this context?
      Predicting crime rates based upon past arrest records is a bit silly isn't it? Even if it is based upon conviction rates that still is a bit silly due to the overwhelming percentage of plea bargains and a disgraceful lack of public defender funding.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2018 @ 4:00pm

      Re: Well, here is the problem:

      The numbers automatically fuck themselves to uselessness if you allow heavy bias to be introduced. If you decide to only check people with red hair for smuggling drugs and let the ones with other hair color go unchecked eventually your numbers will shift to 100% of the convictions from red haired drug smugglers and 0% from everybody else - because you never checked anybody else in the interests of 'efficiency'!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 27 Oct 2018 @ 4:11pm

        Re: Re: Well, here is the problem:

        Sounds like a perfect case of confirmation bias just waiting to happen.

        'We know that Group A has more criminals than Group B, and as such we will devote significantly more resources to watching them and looking for any illegal actions(even if we have to 'nudge' things along at times).'

        Some time and no few arrests passes.

        'As the evidence shows the overwhelming majority of the crimes we deal with involve people from Group A, confirming our previous suspicion that Group A has far more criminals than Group B, and is therefore much more deserving of current and future attention than other groups with lower instances of criminal activity.'

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Christenson, 28 Oct 2018 @ 9:57am

      Re: You missed something ELSE important...

      What if the enforcement group (ATF) has a 50% chance of committing a crime, but faces no penalties???

      See various cases where the gubmn't was selling the weapons used by the violent mexican drug gang, for example...or Little Rock PD, where perjury allows arbitrary home invasions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 26 Oct 2018 @ 4:55pm

    ATF job security 101, or "how else are we gonna find enough to do to keep us employed?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dan, 26 Oct 2018 @ 4:58pm

    ATF is more fully known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. WTF do they have to do with fictitious stashes of drugs?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2018 @ 5:02pm

      Re:

      Fictitious drug stash houses are frequently guarded by fictitious well-armed drug dealers, which only makes sense when you consider the large volume of fictitious drugs they're protecting. ATF inserts itself on the basis of the fictitious guns carried by the fictitious drug dealers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2018 @ 5:43pm

        Re: Re:

        Feds make their own rules

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2018 @ 6:00pm

        Re: Re:

        The people convicted of these crimes should serve fictitious sentences to balance out the rest of the imaginary crimes that took place.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 26 Oct 2018 @ 11:23pm

          If the drugs are fictional why not the prison sentence?

          Absolutely correct, and wouldn't that just completely undermine their fictional drug busts?

          "According to the ATF there was five kilos of drugs in the house, which requires a mandatory minimum of 20 years behind bars. However, as there was in fact zero kilos of drugs in the house, and taking my clues from the ATF I find the defendant guilty of attempting to steal zero kilos of drugs, and sentence them to a fictional 20 years in prison, which is to say you're free to go about your life, no prison time needed."

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    John Smith, 26 Oct 2018 @ 7:03pm

    And? I don't see a problem here, aside from more obvious Section 230 apologism. It's shameful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2018 @ 10:29pm

      A wild coward has appeared.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2018 @ 11:35pm

      Sup liar

      How did you escape Mikes cyber-lawyer-warlock-ninjas this week?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        John Smith, 27 Oct 2018 @ 1:00am

        Re: Sup liar

        You'd do well to keep your attack dogs in check, Masnick. Especially the lawyer ones. IP addresses and telltale writing styles mean that judges will be interested to know who's been funding this pirate apologist cesspool at the behest of rightsholders.

        You've been warned.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Dan, 27 Oct 2018 @ 5:59am

          Re: Re: Sup liar

          Judges won't care in the least unless someone brings a case in which the question is remotely relevant. Put up or shut up.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            John Smith, 27 Oct 2018 @ 12:21pm

            Re: Re: Re: Sup liar

            That is not the same "John Smith" as me.

            It seems I have some cyberstalkers on this page who are ADDRESSING something over and over again, now to the point of trying to mislead people and incite them.

            There has been police involvement over this for several years, and now they have "probable scause" to investigate any potential ties to the people who post here.

            Seems I struck a nerve somewhere to the point where people are now reacting like this.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              That One Guy (profile), 27 Oct 2018 @ 1:10pm

              Really, the difference is clear as day

              Let's see, both 'John Smiths' make impotent threats about police/legal involvement, both post under the same name, and both make statements implying that other people who post here might find themselves under investigation for being just downright meanies.

              Oh yeah, I can definitely see the striking difference, and totally believe that the two are from different people.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2018 @ 12:18am

                Really, the difference is clear as day

                Not to mention both of them misspell common words and lie like moth eaten rugs.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2018 @ 12:01am

              Scause you.

              Several years? Look bitch we know you’re a liar. But damn try to come up with something believable. And the oh it’s someone impersonating me to make look worse than I already do because i was too drunk to remember posting it, excuse is pretty played out.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2018 @ 10:20pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Sup liar

              Nobody believes you, bobmail.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          John Smith, 27 Oct 2018 @ 12:18pm

          Re: Re: Sup liar

          I've been impersonated with a goal towards inciting otherws against me.

          There is already police involvement and now there's more.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2018 @ 10:56pm

          Re: Re: Sup liar

          Do it you fucking pussy.

          Or are your threats as weak and flaccid as your dick?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Dan, 27 Oct 2018 @ 6:02am

      Re:

      What part of this post had anything to do with Section 230?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        John Smth, 27 Oct 2018 @ 12:24pm

        Re: Re:

        Some of my cyberstalkers are still going ballistic over something I posted a while ago, to the point where they are now impersonating me on this site and tryint to incite others against me.

        There ahs been police involvement relating to this for several years now. Everything of this nature gets reported then it's up to law enforcement from there.

        odd that someone posting comments here would be so fixated on passing remarks that supposedly involve no one, to the point of risking identity-theft and stalking charges or anonymous-harassment charges (a federal felony 47 USC 223(h)).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Agammamon, 26 Oct 2018 @ 11:44pm

    One question that the judge really needs to ask - hard - is why the *AFT* is running *drug stings*.

    That's not alcohol, tobacco, nor firearms. Not even explosives. Yeah, I know - there's a firearm involved. But the ATF's reason for existing is crimes involving the illegal production, illegal sale, and production/sale of illegal firearms. Not every crime where a firearm might be present.

    Seems to me that this sort of thing should, legally, be outside their remit. Especially since its within the remit of more general law enforcement agencies and we even created one with that specific remit - the DEA.

    Somebody should be asking hard questions about why the ATF is spending its budget running guns into Mexico and busting penny-ante drug-house robberies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2018 @ 7:02am

    fake drugs?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2018 @ 2:36pm

    It's really a pity that people seem to think the government should be able to get away with this if only it were done more often, to more differently-pigmented-integument persons.

    By any moral standard, the skin-color of the victim ought to be irrelevant. The real problem is--why isn't everyone shouting "entrapment!"? The plan and equipment for the crime were supplied by government agents.

    IMO this is a terrible waste of government resources. If imaginary drugs can turn any crime into a drug-related offense, why not arrest jaywalkers for "crossing traffic lines to possess imaginary controlled substances"? Same statutory sentence, MUCH cheaper to prosecute. Or hoover up after local shoplifting convictions, piling on charges of "pilfering 2 liters of artificial Coke and 5 kg of imaginary coke from the corner market." The heavy-lifting investigation has already been done by the local beat cops.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Paul Brinker, 27 Oct 2018 @ 8:27pm

      Re:

      Entrapment is different then what you think it is.

      Say a cop, with a shirt, and badge, orders you to unholster your lawful concealed carry weapon, then arrests you for brandishing a concealed weapon in public.

      This is entrapment, someone under the color of law gives you an order and you do it, then you get arrested for obeying the order.

      The AFT are not giving orders under the color of law, they are "Normal" people saying, "Wanna hit up that house, its full of drugs, Here is a gun (blanks), I heard they are loaded, at least 20 kilos"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Cressman, 29 Oct 2018 @ 5:29am

    Fake drugs...

    If you get convicted of a fake crime with fake drugs... can you get sent to a fake prison?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 29 Oct 2018 @ 8:59am

      Re: Fake drugs...

      "For attempted theft of 5 kilos of fake drugs, I hereby sentence you to 20 years in fake prison. You are ordered to glue a set of plastic 'prison bars' to whichever bedroom you are using at the time, and shall consider that your cell for the duration of your sentence, albeit one you are free to enter and leave at your discretion. Case dismissed."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2018 @ 8:49am

    Spent seventeen years in federal prison as a result of one of these stash house stings. Luckily, President Obama commutted my 24-year prison sentence or else I'd still be serving times. The courts, ATF, along with the US Attorney's Office has know the real deal about these stings for more than 20 years now. It's all a scam. A means to an end. Social engineering at its finest--while also appearing efficient and generating arrest statistics. 1984 is here--the dawn of an age where "thought crimes" actually result in the arrest and detention of American citizens. For decades upon decades at a time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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