It’s not every day you hear a federal judge publicly bash an entire branch of the federal government, but that’s exactly what U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright did today.
Judge Wright had harsh words for both the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the executive branch today in a ruling in which he dropped charges against a man at the center of an ATF drug heist hoax.
The hoaxes Wright spoke on have become a common practice in the ATF. Typically, undercover agents will immerse themselves in a community in search of potential criminals. Once they find people who fit their desired profile, the undercover agents tell them of a drug heist opportunity. The proposal involves the person stealing drugs from a location in exchange for a big payday.
Unbeknownst to the person who agrees to the ATF agents’ deal, both the drugs and the pick-up spot are fictitious. Upon arriving at the alleged drug den, the person is arrested by federal agents and booked on attempted theft and drug distribution charges.
The ATF hails the technique as a way to pull potential criminals off the streets. But Wright took strong issue with the tactic in his ruling, calling it “crime creation” and adding that it “makes the Government the oppressor of its people.”
"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.
Judge Wright then accused the Executive Branch of violating its constitutional duty of law enforcement.
"The time has come to remind the Executive Branch that the Constitution charges it with law enforcement — not crime creation,” he wrote. “A reverse-sting operation like this one transcends the bounds of due process and makes the Government the oppressor of its people.”
In his ruling, Wright ordered the release of Antuan Dunlap, a man arrested by federal agents last year after agreeing to steal a fictitious 25 kilograms of cocaine. According to an in-depth investigation done by USA Today last year, the ATF has locked up over 1,000 people by luring them into robbing fake drug houses.
Former ATF supervisor David Chipman praises the practice, and says it helps prevent future crime.
"There are huge benefits, and there are huge downsides," he said. "Do you want police to solve crimes, or do you want them to go out and prevent crimes that haven't occurred yet? What are the things you're willing to do so that your kid doesn't get shot?"
Judge Wright slammed that logic in his ruling, and said the stings have not reduced the amount of drugs circulating in America or improved public safety.
"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,” he wrote. “That's the problem with creating crime: the Government is not making the country any safer or reducing the actual flow of drugs.”