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Feds use imaginary drugs and facts to arrest for drug crimes

The federal criminal justice system is being criticized in a number of areas. For example, there has long been criticism of the federal sentencing guidelines. They are rife with shocking mandatory minimum sentences, and are responsible for thousands of Draconian crack cocaine sentences that were so unconscionable that recent reforms had to be at least partially initiated. Another controversial tactic being implemented in California and elsewhere is that of setting up a fake drug arsenal and using fraudulent representations to entice individuals into a fake proposal, only to find that they are facing serious drug crimes charges without having ever touched or seen an illegal drug.

DEA undercover agents will set up an imaginary drug house and stash. These are fictitious formulations designed to draw in suspects, some of whom may have no drug experience or prior criminal record. Once the suspect agrees orally, he or she is arrested, prosecuted and sentenced based on the amount of fictitious drugs that the defendant never actually handled or saw because they never actually existed.

Thus, an agent might, for example, propose that you and he steal 5 kilograms of cocaine from a drug dealer out of a drug house. The only problem: the drugs don't exist, the drug dealer is a figment of the agent's imagination, and the nonexistent drug house is as fanciful as a child's dollhouse. The upshot: you'll be arrested for a major drug conspiracy and sentenced to a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence based on the imaginary 5 kilos of weight.

A federal drug crimes prosecution in California that is based on a crime manufactured out of thin air begins to create a sour taste in one's pallet. Why not make authorities go after real drug operations run by real drug dealers? Should they be able to base their annual war-on-drug statistics on wholly imaginary violations that never actually occurred? Some courts have responded to such questions by dismissing the charges, thus initiating a trend that may counteract this controversial strategy of law enforcement.

Source: The New York Times, "More Judges Question Use of Fake Drugs in Sting Cases", Erik Eckholm, Nov. 20, 2014

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