Appeals Court Sees Nothing Wrong With The ATF Busting People For Thinking About Robbing Fake Stash Houses
from the fake-criminals...-because-real-criminals-are-just-too-wily dept
The FBI continues to handcraft its own terrorists, ensuring a steady stream of prosecutions, press releases and counterterrorism funding. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and (more recently) Explosives (ATF) is busy turning unsuspecting males into would-be Omar Littles.
Last year, Mike Masnick covered federal Judge Otis Wright's scathing critique of the ATF's "made-up plot" to turn three people into drug house robbers. Only there was no drug house, no drugs or cash to rob and the ATF had to work overtime just to get the three defendants to agree to carry out this completely fabricated criminal act.
In his dismissal, Wright took aim at the ATF's beyond-questionable tactics.
But for the undercover agent’s imagination in this case there would be no crime. The undercover agent invented his drug-courier persona, the stash house, the 20 to 25 kilograms of cocaine supposedly inside the stash house, the two individuals supposedly guarding the stash, the need to use weapons, and the idea of robbing the stash house. He even provided the putative safe house and getaway van. Dunlap brought little to the table besides his sheer presence and perhaps the hope of being able to obtain some quick cash.He also pointed out that, because the criminal enterprise was completely made up, the ATF could say whatever it wanted to in order to maximize the future "wrongdoing" of the men it arrested.
...Despite the Supreme Court’s admonition, the ATF manufactured this entire crime. It did not infiltrate an ongoing criminal enterprise, as there is no indication that Hudson, Whitfield, and Dunlap had any previous criminal affiliation between them.
In these stash-house cases, the Government’s “participation in the offense conduct” is what makes them particularly repugnant to the Constitution. Everything about the scheme—and therefore almost everything bearing upon a defendant’s ultimate sentence—hinges solely on the Government’s whim. Why were there not 10 kilograms in the stash house? Or 100? Or 1,000? Why were the guards allegedly armed—necessitating that Defendants bring weapons along with them? All of these factors came down to the ATF and the undercover agent alone. That sort of arbitrariness offends the Constitution’s due-process demands.The ATF deployed similar tactics against Alex Pedrin. Twenty-year ATF veteran Richard Zayas -- who has carried out "hundreds" of stash house stings -- turned Pedrin into an aspiring stash home invader. Unfortunately for Pedrin, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wasn't as appalled by the ATF's actions as Judge Otis Wright.
Again, a fictitious drug house was presented as a robbery target by Zayas, watched over by "armed guards" and "containing" 40 to 50 kilos of cocaine. Pedrin never got a chance to take down the stash house. The other participants became suspicious it might be a setup. Everyone split up after spotting ATF agents, but were captured shortly thereafter. Pedrin -- who never actually participated in a robbery, much less obtained any drugs -- was charged with "conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute." Another "successful" sting by Agent Zayas, and not a single actual criminal was harmed.
Pedrin didn't raise the entrapment defense, but did challenge his prosecution as being the result of "outrageous government conduct." The court didn't buy it, but Judge John T. Noonan dissented from the majority opinion.
The undisputed and dispositive fact is that Pedrin was not known to the government to be predisposed to raid a stash house at the time when an agent of the ATF proposed this action to him. The law is settled: “Government agents may not originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person’s mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and induce commission of a crime so that the government may prosecute.” Jacobson v. United States, 503 U.S. 540, 548 (1992). In this case, the ATF originated the criminal design, implanted it in Pedrin’s mind and induced him to commit the crime that the government then prosecuted.Noonan finishes off his dissent by pointing out what the ATF's long history of "reverse stings" has done for it, and the government it serves. Not content to take down actual criminals engaged in actual criminal activity, the ATF has continually manufactured criminals and criminal activity. Maybe it finds this process generates better results. Maybe it just finds it easier than investigating criminals currently engaged in criminal activity. Whatever the case, Noonan doesn't care for the ATF's takedown of Pedrin and his co-defendants.
Who has the burden of proof as to the defendant’s disposition? In Jacobson, the Supreme Court provided the answer: “[T]he prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant was disposed to commit the criminal act prior to first being approached by government agents.” The timing of the defendant’s disposition is critical: “The sole issue is whether the Government met its burden of proving that petitioner was predisposed to violate the law before the Government intervened.” No showing has been made that Pedrin was known to be predisposed to commit this crime prior to being approached by the agents of ATF. The ATF laid out the entire stash house scheme to him before he had said a single word. The prosecution of his case should be dismissed.
As the case now stands, the ATF enhances its reputation by its successful ruse. The government of the United States is diminished by its dependence on the duplicity of the agency. Because of a choice made by Pedrin or his counsel, entrapment was not argued and Jacobson was uncited. By the rules governing litigation we can affirm Pedrin’s conviction. By our commitment to a humane justice, we are called to dismiss the case made by the entrappers.Pedrin perhaps saw Noonan as a wedge against the appeals court's decision. An en banc hearing was requested to rehear the decision upholding his conviction. The court has declined this opportunity to further examine the ATF's fake drug house operations. Once again, it's Noonan who has a few words to say about the subject.
When the government puts psychological pressure on persons to commit a crime this pressure militates towards a finding of entrapment...As to the government's claims that Pedrin was predisposed to commit criminal acts like a stash house robbery, Noonan finds them weak and unsupported by the evidence presented.
Here, the government [...] relied on psychological tricks to persuade Pedrin to participate in the crime. First, the confidential informant was co-defendant Omar Perez’s uncle, and therefore someone to whom Perez and Pedrin, a close friend of Perez’s, were more likely to succumb than they otherwise might. Second, the informant-uncle peer pressured Pedrin and Perez by telling them that the government agent was “very cool people,” that he, the informant, “want[ed] to do the job,” and that if they could not do it, he would find people who could. Third, the government put time pressure on defendants by telling them the opportunity was available to them for only a limited period. Finally, the government agent eliminated some of the moral qualms defendants may have had about the drug dealers they were planning to rob by telling them that he had “no love” for the dealers and that they were cheating him out of his fair share of the profits from their business. These psychological tactics no less induced defendants to participate in the reverse sting than did the tactics employed by the government in Sorrells, Sherman, or Jacobson.
Regarding Pedrin’s predisposition to participate in the scheme, not only did the government know nothing about him when they approached him, nothing in his record suggests that he was apt to commit a crime like this one. Pedrin was in and out of the juvenile system, and as an adult served time in jail for several misdemeanors. Pedrin had two felony convictions, one for being “belligerent to officers while being booked into jail,” and another for the crime of endangerment for which he served a prison sentence of a little over one year. Pedrin’s record contains no crimes related to dealing cocaine, robberies, or home invasions.The conviction holds, for something as ethereal as a conspiracy to possess drugs. Apparently, this is the way the ATF fights the Drug War. (And who knows why it's even decided to "enlist," other than the weapons connection…) It steers people not currently engaged in criminal behavior towards criminal acts predicated on nonexistent locations and contraband. Then it serves them up to the justice system and issues press releases. Apparently, the DEA is supposed to catch the actual criminals, even if it seems to be far more interested in lifting cash from the recreational marijuana users it finds traversing the drug corridor known as the United States of America.
The only evidence supporting that Pedrin previously committed a stash house robbery is the testimony of co-defendant Terry Bombard who was more than ten years older than twenty-four-year-old Pedrin and who testified against him in exchange for a deal of ten years instead of a life sentence. The government offered no evidence independently corroborating Bombard’s testimony. On these facts, Bombard’s assertions that Pedrin previously committed stash house robberies would likely not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.