U.S. Appeals Court Points out That Sting Operations Primarily Target Blacks and Latinos
On October 15, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made it easier for defendants snagged in reverse sting operations to seek evidence indicating that the government engaged in serious civil rights concerns by specifically targeting blacks and Latinos in these operations. In doing so, the court painted a disturbing portrait of law enforcement luring blacks and Latinos into participating in purported robberies of fictitious stash houses. The decision provides good cause to take an entirely new look at racial profiling in a context that has largely been hidden from public view.
The case was brought by an African American defendant who was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and interfere with commerce by robbery in association with a 2012 stash house reverse sting. The defendant not only argued that he was targeted entirely due to his race, but also presented significant evidence that most-all defendants targeted by law enforcement in these investigations are either African American or Latino.
Racial Profiling & Entrapment?
These operations can be traced back to Miami in the 1990s, when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms decided to stage them in an effort to crack down on drug cartels moving large amounts of cocaine through South Florida. Targets are usually are told that the amount of cocaine that will be stolen exceeds five kilograms—an amount which automatically triggers a minimum 10-year sentence under the law. This effort then attracts individuals who would try to poach the shipments, often resulting in attacks on innocent people. The targets are also encouraged to bring items such as guns, which then tacks on charges such as intent to participate in conspiracy to commit additional crimes.
Personal, Subjective Bias Pervasive In the Operations
According to the majority opinion, courts must recognize that the choice of locations for these stash operations tends to be neighborhoods with large black and Latino populations, and this points to evidence of intentional racial discrimination. This has become a huge issue because, in setting up these operations, the government provides the informant with a significant amount of discretion in choosing who they would like to target, which allows for a number of personal biases to enter into the process.
Clear Bias towards Racial Minorities
Interestingly, the majority opinion also pointed out that, not only have 90 percent of those convicted in stash house stings been black or Latino, but targets and their co-conspirators tend to have only modest criminal records before being targeted. In other words, law enforcement isn’t targeting the worst criminals out there with the longest records, but rather, racial minorities.
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