The Department of Justice is appealing two recent decisions by federal judges in Los Angeles that found the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) practice of setting up fake stash houses and enticing small-time criminals to rob them (a strategy the ATF is proud of) unconstitutional.
USA Today reports:
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles declined to comment on the cases because they are ongoing. In court filings, however, prosecutors have blasted what they called Real's "barely defensible" decision to release "dangerous recidivist criminals" and pointed to a long history of similar investigations that have been approved by the courts.
The ATF quietly made such stash-house stings a central part of its effort to target violent criminals, more than quadrupling their use over the past decade. A USA TODAY investigation last year found that the stings led to more than 1,000 arrests, often sweeping up small-time criminals who jump at the chance to make hundreds of thousands of dollars for a few hours of work.
One of the judges, Manuel Real, ordered the release of three men caught in such an operation. They had already pled guilty and their lawyers were not seeking to have the charges overturned.
The judicial backlash isn't limited to the two decisions. Another federal circuit court judge in Los Angeles, Jimmy Carter appointee Stephen Reinhardt, warned of tyranny lurking around the corner because of the bureau's disturbing practice, writing that "government verges too close to tyranny when it sends its agents trolling through bars, tempts people to engage in criminal conduct, and locks them up for unconscionable periods of time when they fall for the scheme." In Chicago, meanwhile, a federal judge last year wondered whether the ATF's stings unfairly targeted minorities.
The ATF can apparently run anti-drug operations independently of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), likely based on the government's claim that the drug trade is often linked to firearms (as the trade of any substance or product prohibited by government would likely be).